Tuesday marks 12 months since Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, was killed May 25, 2020, by white Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.
The death, captured on a bystander's camera, touched off waves of protests across the country, some of which became violent, and a national conversation about equity and police training and hiring.
Today, Chauvin has been convicted of murder, but for those who demonstrated, additional progress and serious questions remain.
“It felt like we couldn’t see an end to police violence against Black people, and we couldn't have our voices heard as much as we wanted to around the country because we were in the midst of a pandemic,” Craig said. “Now I would say that the hopelessness is from an ‘OK we got a conviction — why are these things still happening?’”
The names Andrew Brown, Daunte Wright and Ma'Khia Bryant were mentioned by activists, community leaders and academics reflecting on the last 12 months, as examples of more Black lives taken this year.
“Then what happens? What is going to change?” said Ashley Farmer, a criminal justice professor at ISU. “That’s usually the biggest question after any incident like this — what are we going to see that’s different? And usually the answer is not much.”
Linda Foster, president of the Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP, said this “unveiled the ugliness of how a group of people can be treated.” The group is holding a prayer Tuesday to remember Floyd.
“There’s no way in the world that no change is supposed to come from this. We cannot continue to allow these types of behaviors,” Foster said.
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Chauvin was convicted by a Minneapolis jury last month, found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The bystander video showed the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9½ minutes, pinning him to the pavement as he pleaded for Chauvin to stop.
After the video spread online, the summer was punctuated with protests, marches and rallies across the U.S., including several in Bloomington-Normal organized by local activist groups like NAACP, Black Lives Matter and Not In Our Town.
Two nights of looting in Bloomington-Normal occurred hours after the organized rallies, resulting in extensive property damage to police vehicles and local retailers and more than 40 defendants eventually charged for their involvement.
Craig said it was important for her to participate last year because “I felt like the common refrain from the community was ‘enough is enough.’ Like we have to speak and we need to show that we’re united in our quest for justice. We can’t continue going like this.”
Brandon Thornton, a math and English special education teacher at Bloomington High School, said he was proud of the community, especially young people, last summer.
“It felt nice to know the community was kind of grieving together and we were acknowledging that this was a crime. It was a murder,” he said. "I feel like we’ve done a really good job of immediately organizing when someone in our community is feeling trauma ... We’ve done a really good job of getting together and holding vigils and holding rallies that say ‘We’re not going to take this in our community.’”
However as a country, Thornton said, it’s been more difficult because “there’s still this narrative that it is within your constitutional rights to hold bigoted, racist, xenophobic views.”
Mike Matejka, co-chairman of Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal, which works to improve race relations, said the Chauvin video “woke white people up.”
“The idea of police brutality was not a new thing to African American communities, but that the vividness and the video of what happened to George Floyd I think brought home to many white Americans that this was not just an extraordinary event, but the kind of thing that many African Americans face on a regular basis,” he said.
Matejka pointed to the at least 224 other Black people who have been killed by police since Floyd’s death. The 224 deaths are of 1,032 people killed by police — many of whom the race was unknown — since Floyd’s murder, according to a database maintained and last updated May 9 by the research group Mapping Police Violence.
“This was not just a one-time accident,” Matejka said.
After Chauvin’s guilty verdict was returned, James Black, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, issued a statement calling this result justice served in Floyd’s “tragic death.”
“A bad police officer is no longer wearing a badge,” said Black, who is a police chief in Crystal Lake. “As a profession, we must not tolerate hate, discriminatory practices or abuses of power. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police is committed to collaboratively working with our lawmakers and the citizens we serve to effectuate positive change and build trust within our communities. It is my sincere hope that we can slowly begin to heal as a nation.”
Officials for the Normal and Bloomington police departments, as well as McLean County Sheriff's Office, have repeatedly said they are working to hire a more diverse staff of officers but are hampered by a severe shortage of applicants. McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage has also said an "anti-police sentiment that is being pushed" has had an impact on hiring.
Law enforcement have also pointed to renewed efforts to meticulously review training standards, as well as to boost connections with the community.
The Normal Police Department recently adjusted its intervention guidelines, expanding requirements for officers to intervene if they witness excessive force being used by officers in other agencies and not just their own.
What comes next
Foster and NAACP First Vice President Carla Campbell-Jackson said they believe some progress has been made, including the criminal justice reform bill the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus drafted and then passed this year.
However, as the reform package was one of four pillars proposed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus — with health care, economic access, and education as the others — there’s still more work to be done, they said.
“It’s not over with yet,” Foster said. “And we want to say loudly that we’re not going to continue to stand by and just let loss of life be had.”
Farmer said substantial change is slow and while policy changes may result from Floyd’s death, “It really comes down to addressing police culture.”
While the world saw Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck, they also saw “three other officers who stood there and didn’t see a problem at the time," Farmer said. "You have to change that culture within policing so officers feel comfortable coming forward if they see a problem and they know that they can do so without retaliation and you want to change the culture to where these things like leaning on someone’s neck for nine minutes is not just a normalized part of arresting someone.”
Craig agreed: “The blue code of silence is something that needs to come down. We don't want new recruits going in thinking that you can’t intervene and you can’t do anything.”
The first step toward addressing this violence is to listen to people of color, Farmer said.
“I’ve never experienced police brutality. I’ve studied police brutality for almost a decade, but that’s not the same thing,” the professor said. “Can I understand what different factors influence police brutality or what types of cultures within police departments allow police brutality to happen? Sure. But I think listening to people who have been brutalized by police or have been targeted by the police for years and years on end is where you start.”
Craig said the silver lining in “that horrible dark cloud” was the video showed this was not a split second decision by the officer and exposed this reality to those who were unaware or did not want to believe it.
“In other (cases) you could try to excuse them away.” But this time, “We had to sit through what felt like an endless amount of time and actually see someone’s life leave their body. That’s just something that no one should have to see,” she said.
Despite being only a junior at Bloomington High School, Marley Pleines said they already feel desensitized to the violence seen in the video of Floyd’s death.
"What was more alarming for me last summer was after that seeing how much I felt like things got worse," Pleines said. Seeing protests across the country, "I was feeling like police were getting more violent and conservatives were getting more aggressive so that scared me more than seeing the event itself unfold, like watching the dominos fall because that was very alarming to me.”
A year later, Pleines said some fear remains but they’re still finding hope.
“I feel like now there’s some sort of hope that it’s going to get better or that people are more aware now,” Pleines said. “This has definitely raised a lot of awareness about police and the misuse of power that can happen.”
Campbell-Jackson said the visibility of Floyd’s death and others' “emphasizes the stark reality” of racial disparities.
“While the NAACP has always remained extremely aware of the mass disparities, cameras now align the world to witness what we’ve known forever, for generations,” Campbell-Jackson said.
The bystander video helped galvanize many people to start talking about racism in not just policing, but in other aspects like education and healthcare. But Campbell-Jackson said while the dialogue is good, it is largely the people who are not involved in the conversations that need to be.
“The people who are not at the table are the ones that need to be present, so that we can make those changes,” Campbell-Jackson said. “Usually the ones that are participating in these conversations are already aware, and they’re already willing to help with leveling the playing field.”
Prior to an interview with The Pantagraph, Foster had met with Sandage about working to make the department more diverse, which she said needs to happen for every law enforcement department.
“These different agencies need to be able to have their administration look like our community. They just do,” Foster said. “That is why we’re on the forefront and that’s why we’ll continue to speak, and to remind people, and to encourage people, and to educate people that until we’re all there, we’re not there.”
Craig said that while diversity is important, “It’s not the end all be all” and officers need to engage with their community and get to know people “instead of waiting for someone to commit a crime.”
"We have to have something that is truly a joint effort ... from a place of bettering relations and saving lives," Craig said. Because, "the wounds are still open and it’s just like every news flash of another life lost in this way is just opening and reopening the wound, and it feels like it can’t heal."