The police murder of George Floyd added jet fuel to a nationwide push to defund the police. We go to Minneapolis to speak with Kandace Montgomery, co-executive director of Black Visions Collective, about their response to the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd and an update on the push to divest from Minneapolis police and invest in communities.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
As we’ve reported, a jury in Minneapolis has convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin on three counts of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds last May. He’s the first white police officer in Minnesota to ever be convicted of killing a Black person. The jury reached its decision after 10 hours of deliberation. Judge Peter Cahill revoked Chauvin’s bail and will sentence him in two months. He faces up to 40 years in prison for the most serious charge, second-degree murder.
For more, we go to Minneapolis, where we speak with Kandace Montgomery, co-executive director of Black Visions Collective, a Black-led, queer- and trans-centering community organization based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul that’s part of the movement calling to defund the police.
Kandace, welcome to Democracy Now! First, your reaction to the verdict?
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Thank you so much for having me.
Yeah, my reaction, like many, was an exhale for our community. Many of us have been holding our breath in anticipation for this verdict. And though I don’t think that justice can ever be served when we’ve lost a life in this type of situation, I do think it’s important to be able to honor that exhale of a breath and honor the peace that I’m sure George Floyd’s family and friends are now able to experience and feel. And so, for that, for them, I, you know, am, of course, very happy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kandace, I’m wondering your reaction to the statements of Attorney General Keith Ellison. He gave a very lengthy statement after the verdict, going into basically the history of abuse of African Americans by law enforcement. Your reaction to that and to his role in all of this?
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Yeah, you know, I think it’s really critical that we are lifting up this history and that Attorney General Keith Ellison is also doing so. And his work to really push for justice in this moment has been important in many ways.
At the same time, you know, Attorney General Keith Ellison also has been part of the militarized occupation that is currently happening in Minneapolis and across Minnesota in response — in preparation for this verdict, as well as response to the murder of Daunte Wright. And so, you know, my offering back to the attorney general is to really look at the ways that we are able to not just reckon with the history that we have to deal with, but also look at how we are perpetuating that history in these moments, specifically by limiting the rights of Black and Brown protesters right here in his state for peacefully protesting against, once again, another police murder.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the sentencing for Chauvin, will be in about — in approximately eight weeks, your sense of what would be a just sentence for him in this situation?
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: I don’t necessarily think that I have an assessment of what would feel as a just sentence in this moment. As an abolitionist and as someone who really thinks that justice is tied up much beyond someone being imprisoned, I think it’s important to really think about justice, going forward, actually looks like defunding and abolishing police. It actually looks like ending militarized occupation in cities that are responding to police murders and the like, and truly uprooting the hideous roots of this institution of policing in this system that continues to kill Black people. At the same time that we were, you know, exhaling or collectively celebrating the verdict of George Floyd’s murder, we also witnessed another murder of a Black teenager, Ma’Khia Bryant, almost at the exact same time. And so, really, as folks are looking forward to the sentencing, I really want to encourage people to think about justice as much more long-term and that we set our bar a lot higher when it comes to calling for justice than an adequate sentencing or not.
AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Kandace, in the days after the protests erupted over Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, the majority of the Minneapolis City Council made a pledge to dismantle the police. This is Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender.
LISA BENDER: Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.
AMY GOODMAN: Around the same time last year after George Floyd’s murder, organizers with your group, Black Visions Collective, and others convinced Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to step outside his home to speak with them. In this clip, we hear you, Kandace, questioning the mayor.
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Will you defund the Minneapolis Police Department?
MAYOR JACOB FREY: I do not support the full abolition of the police department.
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: All right, fine! You’re wasting our time! Get the [bleep] out of here! Get the [bleep] out!
PROTESTERS: Go home, Jacob! Go home! Go home, Jacob! Go home! Go home, Jacob! Go home!
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey telling you, Kandace Montgomery, “I cannot support the full abolition of the police.” Now, that was last June. I want to ask you two things. First of all, the importance of the activists? It’s something that the Floyd family repeated over and over last night in thanking activists. The only reason the first African American elected to statewide office in Minnesota, Keith Ellison, was in charge of this prosecution is because it was taken out of the hands of Hennepin County by the governor as a result of the massive protests. And then, I want to ask about the protests very much centering around this whole push for defunding the police in Minneapolis, including the City Council’s vote, what, in December to cut $8 million from the $170 million police budget and divert the funds to mental health and violence prevention. Lay out for us what you have proposed and what you feel has been accomplished and what you think needs to be accomplished.
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Yeah. So, for the several last years, even before 2020, Black Visions and our partner, Reclaim the Block, and other community organizations have been calling for the divestment from policing and, in particular, the investment in our communities — investment as in investment in real safety, the things that actually create the conditions for safe and healthy and vibrant communities, like housing, like healthcare, like quality access to jobs, like water that you can drink, things like that, instead of pouring and wasting millions of dollars on policing, that we know, ultimately, have, one, never been designed to protect and serve low-income people, people of color ever — in fact, were intentionally created to oppress and keep us in our current conditions. That has really been our call since 2018.
And so, in 2020, it was really an important and immediate call to action to defund the police after the murder of George Floyd, because, for me and many of my comrades, that is what justice actually looks like, is ending this and making sure that there is never another George Floyd or a Daunte Wright or a Dolal Idd or a Ma’Khia Bryant or a Breonna Taylor ever again. That has really been the work that we’ve been doing.
And we have been working with the City Council to push forward that demand. Right now what that looks like here in Minneapolis is calling for the development of a Department of Public Safety and a charter change in our city that will eliminate the requirement for the current shape of our police department, the amount of officers, and really the amount of money that we waste every year here in Minneapolis on policing, and allow us to move those resources and create the infrastructure at a citywide level for real investment in safety alternatives that do not rely on the police solely, and a public health approach to how we think about safety here in Minneapolis that truly centers care for all of our people. And the City Council, along with community organizers, have been working on this initiative this year and are excited to bring it to voters in November, this proposed charter change.
What I’ll say about our mayor, Jacob Frey, is that what we’ve seen since last summer and to this point is that he is completely inadequate to fulfill the responsibilities of his executive role, to be clear about the types of decisions that he does or does not have power around, to actually fulfill the promises that he ran on when he was being elected, and has continuously tried to pit Black communities against each other in order to preserve his political standing and actually not move forward on investments in community safety like his constituents have been calling for. So I think it’s important for people to understand the ways that our mayor has really blocked and gotten in the way of justice.
You know, I want to shout out the George Floyd Square organizers, who for almost an entire year have been out there every single day, out there between 8 a.m. 'til late into the evening, protesting and holding down truly sacred space that is providing mutual aid and care to community members, that is curating the art of this movement, so that people can memorialize and remember this moment, and is not letting the city back down from its promises. That has been so crucial, as well as the organizing led by young people during the uprising last summer that truly lit the fire under the conversation here in Minneapolis, but across the country and across the globe, and put pressure in all of the right places that were needed. And then, of course, our demands, alongside others, to not just call for Black lives mattering, but for — to call for a clear demand to change this system by defunding the police, as we move towards abolition of the police ultimately, over the years to come, and invest in a new model, a new future, a new vision, for how we do safety. So, that's really the moment here. And I really appreciate you lifting up the importance of activism, and not just activism, but intentional organizing, that folks have put into, intentional strategy that community members have been building for decades to get us to this point.
AMY GOODMAN: And this just incredible moment of the bystanders, the passersby, who simply cared, didn’t know each other, including, at the time, the 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who was the one who took that video. And I want to just end this conversation with a reminder of what actually came out from the police department versus what Darnella did.
Shortly after Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, the Minneapolis Police Department issued a press release describing what had happened. The release was titled “Man Dies [After] Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” The statement said, in part, quote, “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”
It was only that video, and then, of course, the eyewitness testimony of passersby who didn’t know George Floyd, but who were deeply concerned about watching a slow-motion murder, that showed the lie of this press release. Your final comment, Kandace?
KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Yes, eternally grateful for Darnella and her bravery in being willing to not only witness this murder but report it, so that the family and others could pursue justice for George Floyd. And again, the police department will continue to show its true colors and what it’s actually rooted in, which is making up lies and committing crimes against humanity for the sake of maintaining its institutional power. So, I think that that is important.
And it should not be lost on people that here in Minnesota right now we are experiencing extreme response and militarized occupation of National Guard and millions of dollars being poured into policing, risking these same conditions. And so, you know, I think that it’s important that we witness this, that we document these things, that we share these things, and that we continue to protest, we continue to get out in the streets, because we know that the police will lie on our name any day without hesitating, and that only we are the ones who are able to keep us safe. And Darnella reminded us of that.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Darnella was with her 9-year-old cousin, who was wearing a T-shirt that said “Love.” Kandace Montgomery, co-executive director of Black Visions Collective, a Black-led, queer- and trans-centering community organization based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
Next up, we go to Harvard professor Khalil Gibran, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America. Stay with us.