On May 25th, 2021, the Minneapolis Police Department intervened with Mr. George Floyd after he tried to use a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill at a store. What started as a nonviolent offense escalated to a fatal incident that sparked a wave of outrage across America, all during a pandemic and the worst economic recession since the 1930s.
Mr. Floyd’s arrest was captured on film by bystanders using their cell phones, and the resulting pictures are nothing short of appalling. We will never forget the infamous image of the now former Minneapolis Police Department Officer, Derek Chauvin, immutably looking at the camera in his blue uniform and his hands placed by his pockets while his knee crushed Mr. Floyd’s neck against the ground. Though Officer Chauvin was the senior arresting officer, three other officers were present and assisted in restraining Mr. Floyd. All four ignored the onlookers pleading for Mr. Floyd’s release. Mr. Floyd showed no immediate hostility, instead stating his inability to breathe, even calling out for his mother. He then became unresponsive and passed away shortly after.
This image has been carved in stone in the American psyche. It is one of those iconic images that will define a decade and will no doubt be remembered as one of America’s darkest moments. Once again, it was up to the American Legal Profession, which the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois is a part of, to correct the wrongdoings in American life. In the grand scheme of checks and balances that is fundamental to our system, the Minnesota Courts accused and submitted Mr. Chauvin to trial. In doing so, the Courts put America and the system itself into trial as well. This time the system worked. If nothing else, this trial gives hope to every person in America that when properly done, justice is possible and obtainable.
There is no need to provide statistics to prove the influence of inequality in the American justice system and how black and brown communities are disproportionate targets of police interventions, convictions, and incarcerations. It is a known fact. We recently saw and denounced the difference in the way the police managed the case of a white youngster who crossed state lines to play vigilante with an assault rifle, killing two and hurting a third, versus what happened to a Hispanic teenager in a Chicago alley. We also witnessed the repressive methods deployed against the protesters of the “Black Lives Matter” movement vis a vis the handling of the, mostly whites, treasonous crowds that stormed the Federal Capitol. Unlike the Capitol, no one took a selfie with Mr. Floyd prior to his arrest. Also, we all know that had he survived his arrest and convicted later, he was not going to be an inmate in a “Club Fed” detention facility, even if his offense was not a violent one.
We saw individuals from all communities condemning the murder of Mr. Floyd. People from all walks of life joined in with one singular voice against systemic racism. Surprisingly, Mr. Chauvin’s fellow officers including his boss, the Minnesota Chief of Police, came forward to testify how Mr. Chauvin violated the Department's regulations. Indeed, the "Blue Wall of Silence" has been broken. Finally, in no small part due to this combined effort, a brave jury convicted Mr. Chauvin of Mr. Floyd’s murder, finding him guilty of all charges filed against him.
Like the election of President Obama to office did not eradicate racism in America, this verdict is not an absolute "victory”. It will not bring back Mr. Floyd to his family. This trial will certainly not be the last one of its kind. The culture responsible for Mr. Floyd's death remains alive and well in many police departments across the nation. This fight is not yet over. There is a lot of work remaining to be done. Continued reforms are necessary to secure the life, liberty, and unobstructed pursuit of happiness that our country was founded on. To this end, we support the passing of "The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” a law currently on hold in the U.S. Senate after being approved in the House. Among other things, this law will ban choke holds and the "no knock" warrants in drug cases, which have proven fatal in other heinous cases. We also recognize that police reform is needed at all levels, in Federal, State and local governments, and encourage the appropriate officials to pass similar policies to continue this wave of progress.
We strongly believe that both sides will benefit immensely from these reforms. The police departments will have a clearer and updated guidance on how to do their jobs, which will hopefully reduce the amounts of lawsuits filed against them and better relations with their communities. The people will have their rights properly protected, and hopefully they will have faith in their protectors once more.
The Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois advocates for better police reforms and for more diversity in our Court System, for a real and more proportionate representation of all our communities. From more minority law students to practicing lawyers and presiding Judges. America's strength is in our people, in our diversity. We are at our lowest moments when we are divided. We are at our best when we are united for a common goal. This is our goal, and this is how we will rise to be the best we can become.
PRBA statement on attack on the U.S. Capital
January 10, 2021
The PRBA strongly denounces the attack on the US Capitol as anti-American and anti-democratic. The vision of confederate flags, armed insurgents and crouching legislators will forever be a stain in this country’s history. The insurrection was a cowardly attempt to thwart our presidential electoral process and the voice of the people, who elected Biden as our next president. Fortunately, these Trump-fueled domestic terrorists were unsuccessful, but as events unfolded on January 6, it was evident to the world that the US has another problem besides preserving our democracy; America needs to address the racist, double-standard that was also clearly on display that day. One need only compare the response from authorities to the mob that attacked the Capitol, and the military response to the Black Lives Matters protests this summer, to see the blaring disparity. This was not the first time the Capitol was attacked. On March 1, 1954, four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, led by Lolita Lebrón, made it into the House of Representatives. From the visitor's gallery, Lebrón stood up and shouted, “Viva Puerto Rico Libre!” ("Long live a free Puerto Rico!") and unfurled a Puerto Rican flag. Five congressmen were shot and survived their wounds. Lolita Lebrón, Irvin Flores, Rafael Cancel Miranda and Oscar Collazo were immediately arrested by the US Capitol Police, and later found guilty of attempted murder. They would serve 25 years in prison before their 50 year sentences were commuted by President Carter in 1979.
The US Constitution and our democracy will survive the attempted coup this past week-- Joe Biden will be sworn in as president on January 20. But America’s bigger problem of systematic racism will linger. The PRBA, and millions of people of color in this country, demand that our leaders, in all branches of government, but particularly in the judicial branch, hold the perpetrators of this week’s attack fully accountable. Lolita Lebrón served 25 years in prison for her role in wounding 5 congressmen. Black Lives Matters protesters from this summer all over the country are still facing pending charges. What will be the fate of the privileged insurgents who attacked the Capitol this week, where 5 people died?