The facts of what happened in Minneapolis just after 8 p.m. on May 25, 2020, are stark: Four Minneapolis police officers responded to a call from a store clerk that a Black man was suspected of having used a counterfeit $20 bill in his transaction. Three stood by while then-Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds, until he died. Mr. Floyd was unarmed. A crowd gathered, and some called 911. A brave young woman videotaped the horrific event.
Rallies, marches, and protests across the country and around the world ensued. In Evanston, a handful of passionate Evanston Township High School alums – some just out of ETHS, some in college – organized what may have been the City’s largest rally. An estimated 5,000 people gathered – angered, shocked, stunned, and more – to protest police brutality against racial minorities.
Protests and rallies continued through the summer, and other names, including a scion of the venerable Blake family of Evanston (Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery were already dead by the time of Mr. Floyd’s murder) were added to the lists of unarmed people shot by police.
There may be those who would like to say on this grim anniversary that things have changed, that consciousness has been raised, and the country is headed down a better path – in short, that the worst is over. Evanston is wary of such complacency. Those who continue the fight for justice know that meaningful change is slow and often hard-won.
In many places across the country tension between police and community is still running high. In Evanston, protests continue against the very existence of the two local police departments – the City’s and Northwestern University’s.
But there are inroads.
The Evanston Police Department had already banned chokeholds and other practices that can gratuitously cause severe harm to civilians when, last summer, Police Chief Demitrous Cook and Mayor Stephen Hagerty put the police department under public scrutiny with a series of virtual Q&A sessions about policing in Evanston.
EPD is in the process of incorporating changes recommended by the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative, a branch of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. Among these are proportionality in response to a given situation, continued training in de-escalation, an emphasis on the sanctity of life, and a duty for a police officer to intervene if another police officer’s conduct violates policy,
A mayor-appointed committee is looking into alternatives to responses to emergencies.
It is a solemn day. There is not yet an adequate response.