George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, sparked a global uprising against systemic racism and police brutality and put the spotlight on decades-long movements dedicated to abolition and criminal justice reform. Memorial events and marches are celebrating George Floyd’s life and commemorate the first anniversary of his murder, and President Joe Biden is hosting some of his family at the White House as negotiations continue in Congress over legislation that bears his name, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Monifa Bandele, who sits on the steering committee for Communities United for Police Reform and is an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, says the racial justice uprising that followed Floyd’s death served as a “clarion call” to defund police and reinvest those resources. “What you see emerging from the communities is a much more powerful demand to actually shift the realities so that our children are not marching again in another 50 years,” Bandele says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
On the first anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd, May 25th, 2020, members of his family are meeting President Joe Biden at the White House as negotiations continue in Congress over legislation that bears his name, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. On Sunday, Floyd’s family members spoke at a rally of hundreds in Minneapolis in front of the courthouse where, just a month ago, former policeman Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. This is George Floyd’s sister Bridgett.
BRIDGETT FLOYD: Tuesday will be a year. It has been a long year. It has been a painful year. It has been very frustrating for me and my family. For your life to change within a blink of an eye, I still don’t know why.
AMY GOODMAN: Outrage over George Floyd’s death sparked international protests and a national reckoning over race and policing.
For more, we’re joined by Monifa Bandele, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 150 Black-led advocacy groups.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Monifa. So, this is the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Can you talk about what has changed in this year, your feelings at the time, and where we have come at this point around issues of policing, structural racism and police accountability?
MONIFA BANDELE: This murder of George Floyd was happening during a continuum. As we know, these murders are going on constantly in our cities across the country in Black communities. And since the Ferguson uprising, our coalition had been calling for an invest-divest model. We said we actually need to divest from these institutions and systems that harm us, like incarceration, like policing, and actually invest resources into what we know keeps communities safe, like stable housing, healthcare, mental health assistance, education.
And so, when we were in that moment of the uprising and the outrage around what had happened to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, communities all over the country were reflecting on their own George Floyds. You know, here in New York, where I live, we’re thinking about Eric Garner, who didn’t get justice until the police officer was fired six years ago, and Ramarley Graham and so, so many families.
So, that mandate on the streets on May 25th, and then again on June 19th and throughout the country, you heard the clarion call to defund the police. And I’m glad that attorney Lee Merritt said earlier that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is a step, because what you see emerging from the communities is a much more powerful demand to actually shift the reality so that our children are not marching again in another 50 years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Monifa, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the George Floyd Act, what you see as positive in it and what could still be strengthened either at the federal level or at the state and local levels.
MONIFA BANDELE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, when we look at a piece of federal legislation that we drafted, called the BREATHE Act, it contained some of the things that you see in the George Floyd Act. We talk about ending qualified immunity. We definitely talk about what attorney Merritt said about moving the bar from willfulness to recklessness, so that federal prosecutors can hold individual police officers accountable.
But what’s not there is the greater accountability. We want more than just accountability for the individual police officer. There’s accountability that needs to be held by entire police departments, by our cities, our states, our federal government. We talk about reparations for these systems and patterns and practices that have existed for so long.
So, we’re very — we are flanking the family of George Floyd. They are so courageous and amazing leaders. But we are also coming in right behind that, saying that we want invest-divest. We want to defund these harmful policing systems, and we want to create something new.
How to strengthen it? They’re fighting just to keep the compromise bill that’s there. So, that’s a question I don’t know how to answer, because every day you turn on the news, it’s being weakened as we speak.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned that you’re speaking from New York. New York City obviously is facing a mayoral primary in June. And I’m wondering your sense of how the different candidates are dealing, who are running for the Democratic nomination — which is tantamount pretty much to winning the mayor’s race in New York City — how they are dealing with the issue of police reform, which ones of them you think have a better grasp or are seeking to go in a better direction.
MONIFA BANDELE: We’ve seen something amazing that lets us know that our efforts of fighting in the streets and in the city halls and in the statehouses is winning, because the conversation has changed. In every candidate’s forum, you see police officers [sic] not only asked about individual cases and what they would do about, quote-unquote, “bad apples,” but now they’re being asked those systems questions. They’re asking where they stand on defund. They’re asking — they’re being asked, “Why does New York have a six, with a B, billion dollars, with a B, budget for the NYPD?” And they are having to give new models, new ideas of how they’re going to restructure this thing.
Now, some are answering those questions very well, and some are avoiding them, but the conversation keeps coming up. And what we see, really, at the front right now are the two women of color are, I think, taking the lead in really examining and unpacking and listening to communities and our demands. It’s very difficult, because the press and the media tries to spin defund as a liability. And we know that it’s an asset, because if you sit and talk to people, I want my neighbors to be able to have access to mental healthcare. I would have loved Mohamed Bah’s mom to be able to pick up the phone, and when she called 911, she got an ambulance with a mental health crisis expert, and not the police that killed her son. So, if they were to have those conversations, they would be on our side and know that defund is the path forward.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Minneapolis Sunday, community members, civil rights leaders, George Floyd’s family gathering to mark the first anniversary of his murder. This is the local community organizer and pastor Carmen Means.
CARMEN MEANS: So, what has changed? The game hasn’t changed. The game remains the same. But what has changed is that you’ve been activated on a whole 'nother level. There's a warrior on the inside of you that was activated on 5/25 on a whole ’nother level.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s take that national and stick with your analysis of what defund the police has meant all over the country. I mean, in Minneapolis, the entire City Council had voted to, in a sense, disband the police, though that is not happening. What it means in New York, the shifting of funds, and where you see it going in the future, and why you supported the BREATHE Act and helped craft it, over the George Floyd police accountability act?
MONIFA BANDELE: My sister in Minneapolis is speaking truth. You know, what has changed is that 25 million people took to the streets, and we can’t come back with 1990s or even early 2000s reforms — right? — banning chokeholds, these things that actually already exist in cities, where people then were then killed by a chokehold, like in the case here in New York City with Eric Garner. Chokeholds are banned here. People want more. And we have been activated to demand more. We don’t want to see any more videos. You know, the Ronald Greene video is horrific. It shakes us to our core. And we refuse to let our children exist like this and our grandchildren. So, she is absolutely right.
And so, even in a short amount of time, even though what happened in Minneapolis wasn’t what the people who were dreaming big wanted, even though in New York we didn’t get that $1 billion cut that we fought for just weeks after the George Floyd — after the uprisings here for our budget fight, all across the country $870 million has been cut from police departments in a year. So we’re winning. We’re gaining momentum. We’re having the conversation. And it is because, like my sister said in Minneapolis, we are inspired, we’re activated, we’re not backing down. Today, people will see all over the country, just like here in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, people are mobilizing, and our mantra is that the call remains defund NYPD.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how do you respond to those who say that the protests of the past year have basically helped to fuel increasing crime and gun violence across the country, with police officers now less likely to act boldly in terms of keeping crime down? Your response to those skeptics and critics?
MONIFA BANDELE: Policing as an intervention is reactionary. You know, police come after something has already happened. We want more safety than that. We want the safety intervention that happens when the person needs care in the first place, before the violence happens, before the displacement happens.
And so, our response to them is that all you have to do is actually look around the country and see that the communities that are the safest are not the communities that have the most police. So, then, what does that lead you to ask? You know, are the people in those communities just inherently less violent and, you know, more secure? No. There are other resources.
So it’s not just about moving the money out of the police departments. It’s also about standing up the systems, institutions that we need. Here in New York City, we have violence prevention programs that are community-based and -led, that must be scaled up. We need the mental health beds. We need the mental healthcare, immediately.
And it’s also a myth that the police budget was cut. You know, you also have this media spin, where the mayor, every time violence happens, and they’re like, “Oh, see, this is why we didn’t defund” — we didn’t defund. We still have the largest police force in the country, and they are unable to control the violence that is emerging in my community of Bed-Stuy. So I want a different intervention. I want an intervention that works.
AMY GOODMAN: Monifa Bandele, we want to thank you for being with us, sits on the steering committee for Communities United for Police Reform and the Policy Table Leadership Team for the Movement for Black Lives.
Happy Birthday, Mike DiFilippo! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.