Tuesday, May 11, 2021
May 11, 2021

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Southwest Washington leaders say work on racial justice continues

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Following the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, community groups and leaders in Southwest Washington emphasized that the work for racial justice is far from complete.

While most lauded the legal outcome, local elected officials and organizations that addressed the Minneapolis trial said Floyd’s murder was part of a broader, systemic problem — one that the community has a long way to go toward dismantling.

“While today’s verdict in the George Floyd murder trial brought legal justice to his family, bringing social justice to the Black communities across our nation will require continued acknowledgement of systemic racism, further work in policing reforms and establishing equity in our schools, workplaces and communities,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said in a written statement Wednesday.

“The verdict may signal that our nation has turned a corner, but it is only a symbolic one.”

On Tuesday, a jury convicted Chauvin, a former officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, on counts of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes on a south Minneapolis street in May.

A video of the crime was captured by a teenage bystander, and the graphic incident mobilized protesters across the country calling for an end to racism and violence in policing.

Just across the Columbia River, those protests stretched on for months, with demonstrators taking to the streets on a near-nightly basis.

After the announcement of Chauvin’s verdict, the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens pointed out the “incredible fearlessness” of Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who videotaped the entire encounter and revealed a situation that starkly contrasted with the MPD’s official report.

“Although this is a victory in this case, we recognize that this cannot become a ‘TOKEN’ from the judicial and policing community. Real change must continue and an overall dismantling of the institutional racism so inherent in the systems built to protect the anglo must occur,” SWWA LULAC said in its written statement.

On its Facebook page, the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP said its members were “breathing out in our sigh of ‘relief,’” reposting a statement from author Lenny Duncan.

“I’d rather have George than ‘justice,’” Duncan wrote.

In their own statement responding to the trial verdict, Clark County Democrats said that what happened to Floyd wasn’t “unique or rare.”

“Racism and bias lurk in every corner of our institutions,” the local party chapter wrote. “We will work with our community and law enforcement to advocate for policy changes that will bring full transparency, full accountability and build trust.”

In Southwest Washington, the Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office have drawn widespread scrutiny over a spate of fatal officer-involved and deputy-involved shootings in the past few years. In most of those incidents, the person killed was a person of color.

The family of Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man shot and killed by Clark County deputies during a traffic stop in February, issued a statement through their lawyer following the Chauvin verdict:

“We hope Jenoah gets the same justice,” the family said.

Southwest Washington’s law enforcement agencies don’t currently use body-worn or dash cameras, though both the CCSO sheriff and the VPD chief are working with their municipal governments to deploy them.

A few hours after the Chauvin verdict was announced, the Clark County Council officially voted to approve nearly $900,000 for 150 body-worn cameras and dash cams. The first stage of the rollout could arrive as early as late summer.

The VPD is also aiming to deploy cameras, under the recommendation of the city’s Community Task Force on Policing. At the soonest, the department could have a fully operational body-worn camera program by early next year.

In a statement Wednesday, VPD Chief James McElvain said that the cameras were one of several changes underway at the department — use-of-force policies, training and data collection are also under review.

“The death of George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer, highlighted the reason why marginalized communities call out the historical racial inequities so many in our nation have faced and sparked emotions that have been long suppressed,” McElvain said.

He added that he supported the protests but denounced any “violence or criminal activity as part of any of these gatherings.”

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