ATLANTIC CITY — More than 20 elected officials, residents and members of religious organizations gathered Tuesday in the courtyard of City Hall to remember events that unfolded a year ago.
“We will (always) remember this day,” said Mayor Marty Small Sr. “We mourn with the (Floyd) family. We mourn with the country.”
The vigil in memory of George Floyd, killed May 25, 2020, by Minneapolis police, was organized by Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, who said the fight for justice can’t stop now.
“We are gathered here today, in all of our diversity and unity, to say that we must change the actions of those who we employ to protect and serve us,” Shabazz said.
Wesley Hawkins Jr., a former Atlantic City police officer, attended the vigil wearing a shirt that said 8:46, which was the amount of time Chauvin was originally thought to have kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
Hawkins, who left the Police Department after a 1981 shootout on the Albany Avenue bridge killed his partner, Peter F. Egnor, said there are issues to be resolved on both sides.
“There is a lot I can say about policing, and there is a lot I can say with the community,” Hawkins said. “They both have to bridge it, both bring it together. I just hope that as people we can all work together and not turn on one another.”
Floyd, 46, was killed outside a convenience store in Minneapolis after then-Officer Derek Chauvin, 45, knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes while he pleaded for air.
Three other Minneapolis police officers were present while Chauvin was on Floyd’s neck, but none intervened.
“Evil prospers when good men and women do nothing,” said Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner. “And what you saw a year ago ... you saw sworn police officers stand by and be intimidated as their senior officer murdered George Floyd.”
Floyd’s murder, which was videotaped by a teenage bystander, ignited a wave of protests across the country denouncing police violence and racism in the criminal justice system. Atlantic City hosted several such protests, one of which, held days after Floyd’s death, was followed by a riot at Tanger Outlets The Walk, and another of which resulted in the arrests of seven people when they attempted to block the Atlantic City Expressway.
According to the Washington Post’s police-involved fatal shooting database, 967 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year.
Black Americans make up 13% of the country’s population but are killed by police at twice the rate of white Americans.
In March, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was passed by the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to address a range of policies and issues with police practices and law enforcement accountability. It awaits a vote in the Senate.
On April 21, Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
“While George Floyd’s murder was tragic, I hope that his death is not in vain,” Tyner said. “I hope that the lessons that have come out of that tragedy, that spurred criminal justice reform all throughout the country, that has challenged us all to be better and to do better, I hope that persists in the years to come.”
Most importantly, Tyner hopes the effort to enact a police licensing system continues.
New Jersey is one of seven states that does not require police officers to be licensed to do their jobs.
“Police licensing is so important to ensure that bad police officers are not recycled throughout their communities,” Tyner said. “It is essential that police licensing is passed into law and helps provide a better measure of public safety for all of us.”
In June 2020, the New Jersey Police Training Commission voted in favor of implementing a statewide police licensing program. The action was endorsed by Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Gov. Phil Murphy released a statement Tuesday honoring Floyd while pointing out the changes in law enforcement practices the state has recently implemented.
“One year ago today, George Floyd was murdered, and the ensuing calls for justice following his death galvanized our nation. While some measure of justice was ultimately delivered for George Floyd and his family, it does not bring him, nor the many other victims of injustice, back. He, and they, should all be alive today,” Murphy said. “In New Jersey we have enacted new laws to require that body cameras be worn by members of law enforcement and for the Attorney General to independently investigate officer-involved deaths and to present evidence before a grand jury. We are updating use-of-force guidelines for the first time in a generation. And we support efforts to enhance transparency in making the disciplinary records of law enforcement public.”