ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s been a year since George Floyd died with an officer’s knee pinned to his neck, a death that sparked protests across the country calling for racial justice and police reform.
The demonstrations went on for weeks, including in Central Florida, and also triggered larger conversations about police violence and why it seems Black men and woman are repeatedly the victims in those incidents.
With those discussions came action.
From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on June 15, News 6 hosted the Real Talk: A Candid Conversation on What’s Changed town hall to examine the progressions made in America since Floyd’s death and what revisions are still needed.
We’ll brought back several members of the Juneteenth Real Talk town hall, who met one year ago to discuss racial inequality in America and possible solutions to fix the problem. Those panelists include Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón, University of Central Florida assistant sociology professor Dr. Jonathan Cox, Vanessa Skipper from the Brevard Federation of Teachers and new this year, pediatrician Dr. Akinyemi Ajayi.
We hosted a live chat at ClickOrlando.com/realtalk during the town hall and invited viewers to submit questions in advance.
Since Floyd was murdered, the cop who killed him has been convicted of manslaughter. While that verdict was celebrated, research from The Washington Post shows that about 1,000 people are fatally shot by police officers each year. That doesn’t include men and women like Floyd who were killed by officers who never fired their weapons.
Bowling Green State University has been tracking what happens to officers after they fire their weapon in deadly incidents and found that from 2005 to June 2019, 104 nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers were arrested on charges related to a deadly shooting. Of those, 35 were convicted.
Going forward, one thing that could lead to officers being held accountable in some regards is the end of qualified immunity, a clause that shields government officials from civil lawsuits in certain cases unless the court feels that he or she violated the victim’s civil rights.
Doing away with qualified immunity is one of the provisions of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. If that bill passes, it would also put an end to chokeholds and no-knock warrants for federal officers. Additionally, it would create a national database of police misconduct and require all federal officers to wear body cameras.
The Movement for Black Lives, however, is against the bill, saying it doesn’t address factors that have led to Black Americans dying at the hands of police and that it employs methods of reform that traditionally haven’t worked.
Critics have noted, too, that the act mostly makes changes on the federal level when really the death of Floyd and so many others were at the hands of officers who worked for local police agencies.
But change has happened on the local level since Floyd’s death.
In Central Florida, we’ve seen the Orange County Sheriff’s Office launch a new initiative that pairs deputies with licensed clinicians to respond to mental health calls. At the Orlando Police Department, new recruits are being asked to meet with members of their communities in order to better understand their needs before they start patrolling.
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office has also taken to recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities and added a minority recruitment and scholarship program to help diversify its new hires.
Floyd’s death has also stirred up new discussions about historical atrocities against Black men and women and how we as a nation confront wrongdoings of the past.
A bill signed by Florida’s governor last summer requires students to learn about the Ocoee Massacre in school and that information about the Nov. 2, 1920 riots that saw dozens of Black men lynched for trying to exercise their right to vote be displayed in museums around the state.
As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, we’re also hearing more about a 40-year study that took place in Tuskegee, Alabama beginning in 1932. The Black men who participated in the study all had syphilis but were told they had “bad blood” and weren’t given the proper medications needed to treat the disease.
Of course, there’s still work to be done.