Almost five years ago, two black men were escorted in handcuffs by police out of a Starbucks in Philadelphia because they were accused of trespassing. Yes, trespassing at a place where people sit for hours hunched over a computer using free Wi-Fi and sipping on an overpriced cup of coffee. A female employee called the police and lied because she was uncomfortable with these two gentlemen being there. Watching these two young men handcuffed and made to leave a public establishment brought back memories of how black people were refused service at a Woolworth’s food counter in 1963.
Fast forward to 2020 and 2023, there are videos on social media showing two African American men lives’ being taken from them at the hands of police. The very same police officers who took an oath to protect and serve the community chose to use excessive and deadly force when arresting these two gentlemen. George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020. Derek Chauvin used unnecessary force and kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine and a half minutes, even after George Floyd told him he couldn’t breathe. During those nine and a half minutes while Mr. Floyd was struggling for oxygen, he called for his momma. In January 2023, Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black male, was beaten by five black police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. As police officers were brutally beating Tyre, who is 6 feet tall and weighing about 150 pounds in wet clothes, he cried out for his momma.
The call for national police accountability and legislation must be a non-negotiable item for our elected officials. While the actions of these police officers in Minnesota and Tennessee are not happening locally in our community, their behavior sets precedence on a national level for what is acceptable behavior of those sworn to protect and serve our communities. When police officers are sued, those funds do not come from a local police budget. Nationally, taxpayers are saddled with the burden of paying for their irresponsibility.
The actions of the employee who called the police two minutes after two black men came into a Starbucks coffee shop exuded the policies of Starbucks. Americans were willing to walk away from their five-dollar cup of coffee for justice. The CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson, heard them. Mr. Johnson proved that one employee’s action does not represent who they are. He did more than offer an apology to the community. He put in some actionable items. He hired Starbucks’ first female COO, Rosalind Brewer. She went on to make policy changes on racial bias and training for employees in over 8000 stores.
The George Floyd Justice in Police Act bill addresses racial profiling and the use of deadly- police force. It was passed when Democrats controlled the house in 2021 but failed in the GOP-controlled Senate. In addition to addressing racial profiling and deadly force, the George Floyd Justice in Police Act bill addresses prosecuting officers and limiting qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private or civil action against a police officer. It also mandates creating a national registry to collect data on complaints and records of police misconduct.
We must demand actionable items from our elected officials in Washington. After the death of George Floyd, I thought America understood that police violence was a problem in this country. Tyre Nichols’ death demonstrates this country has receded in its commitment to do anything about it. I pray a cry for momma will be enough to bring justice for those who lost their lives at the hands of rogue police officers and a change in police behavior.