George Floyd, the 46-year-old man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police late last month, was laid to rest yesterday. His killing opened the wounds of innumerable survivors of police violence and revealed the work left to do to examine systemic racism and community-police relations in the United States.
Floyd's killing has also forced just about everyone, from politicians to celebrities to the stars of Sesame Street, to engage in necessary conversations about prejudice, inequality, and privilege.
But those conversations don't always go smoothly.
On Monday, City of Lauderhill Commissioner Richard Campbell proposed a resolution voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and denouncing police brutality. The resolution — essentially just a political statement supported by the city — calls for immediate action from Congress and the Florida Legislature to "end the existing police practices that target black people and that result in the unlawful killing of black people."
In response, Vice Mayor Howard Berger said he wanted to see a revised resolution that was unifying and "palatable to everyone — people of all races. Democrats, Republicans, and independents."
Berger, the lone white commissioner in a city that is 78 percent black, also called the resolution "adversarial." He claimed it was factually misleading and didn't represent evidence from various sources he cited that found no racial bias in the criminal-justice system and determined it's suspect behavior — not race — that determines police actions.
"If a person reads this resolution, he or she would think a police officer gets up in the morning, goes to work with the intention of shooting an African-American," Berger said. "There is no mention here of the 99 percent of cops who are professional, put their lives on the line, and serve the community admirably."
Berger referenced a statistic that says one in 1,000 black men and boys in the U.S. are expected to die at the hands of police — a figure 2.5 times greater than the risk of white men dying during police encounters, according to the L.A. Times.
"Yes, it's greater than whites," the vice mayor said. "But you have to figure out, does the claim in this resolution aptly reflect that statistic?"
Campbell, meanwhile, came prepared to defend the resolution. He said when Berger previously proposed resolutions related to issues that affect the Jewish community, the commission supported them because it's the right thing to do.
"One act of racism is as important as a thousand acts of racism," Campbell said. "I'm not using statistics. I'm looking at the concept. The concept is that all of us as black men are treated this way. The other issue is whenever we have a discussion about race, there's a sense of denial. We constantly give an excuse why we should not address these issues."
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, whose district includes parts of Broward County, had been invited to speak during the meeting in support of Black Lives Matter. He called in — and was so angered by the vice mayor's comments that he hung up.
"It's unfortunate that in a time like this, leaders in the community are finding excuses as to why they don't support the Black Lives Matter movement," Jones tells New Times.
Last night while joining a virtual mtg for a Broward City to speak on a resolution acknowledging that #BLM & to speak against police brutality, I was baffled by the comments of their Vice Mayor & him condemning the movement. I hung up in anger and realized “THIS is why we march.”— Shevrin Jones (@ShevrinJones) June 9, 2020
During the meeting, Berger said he didn't agree with some of what the recent protesters have advocated, such as abolishing prisons or defunding police departments and reallocating funds to social services. Jones, on the other hand, argues that people don't need to agree with every bullet point, but they shouldn't write off the entire movement and shy away from speaking up about the necessity of supporting the cause.
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Jones says being an elected official means having obligations to represent all people, and elected officials who don't take action on issues of racial injustice should be called out.
"The fact of the matter is, if you're a commissioner in a predominantly black district, the first thing you should have said when this resolution came out is not only is this needed, but it's necessary," Jones says. "But the fact that you made an excuse about why we shouldn't be passing something like this, it's a slap in the face to all the people you serve."
Ultimately, the resolution was approved, with four out of five commissioners voting in favor of the declaration as written. Berger was the only one to oppose the measure.