In the birthplace of the civil rights movement, what has changed since the murder of George Floyd?
By Ashley Norwood, Mississippi Public Broadcast
Chants of “No Justice, No Peace” and “I Can’t Breathe” filled the air at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Ala. On May 25, 2021, a year after a police officer killed George Floyd. This is the same space where activists gathered this time last year.
“I was in exactly the same place fighting for George Floyd’s justice,” said Satura Dudley, 21, executive director of social justice group Cell A65. “Obviously, the trial has taken place. We would have obtained justice. It’s not really fair when he’s already dead.
Floyd’s death, after nine minutes below the knee of a police officer, is what inspired 21-year-old Dudley to become an activist.
“Last year I was really coming to a protest to come to a protest,” Dudley said. “And now I’m helping lead a movement.”
This event is one of the few vigils and marches held across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana this week. But in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, there hasn’t been as much action as in other parts of the country since Floyd’s death.
A protest in downtown Jackson, Mississippi last summer saw thousands marching from the governor’s mansion to city hall, calling for change. A year later, after the discovery of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin guilty of murder, a lot of work is going on behind the scenes. But in Jackson, and many other neighborhoods in the region, the streets are quiet.
A call to action
The murder of George Floyd was a moment of judgment that prompted many young people in the South to mobilize for racial justice.
“For a lot of other people of color and a lot of whites, the George Floyd case was kind of like that defining moment for their understanding of police brutality and a better understanding of the black experience in America,” Maisie said. Brown, 19. , lead organizer of the Black Lives Matter event in Jackson in 2020.
A poll this week from the non-profit group E Pluribus Unum finds that Southerners – regardless of race – have overwhelming support for major police reforms. The survey of 1,200 people found differences between racial and political divides, but a majority of respondents don’t think lawmakers have done enough since the murder of George Floyd.
President Joe Biden had set a deadline of May 25 for the George Floyd Justice in the Police Services Act, which contains reforms such as the ban on strangulation. He passed the House of Representatives in March but is blocked in the Senate. Floyd’s family are urging lawmakers to pass legislation they believe will protect black men and women.
Some activists point to removal of Confederate symbols in area and Alabama law allows it medical marijuana as signs of progress.
But Brown said she wanted to see a lot more.
“I don’t think there have been nearly as many aggressive police reforms as there should be right now,” Brown said. “So I think justice seems to us to have no more George Floyds.”
Beyond George Floyd
Mississippi has its own case of a black man dying after an officer knelt over him. Robert Loggins died in custody at the Grenada County Jail in Mississippi in 2018. The state initially called the death an accident. The calls for an investigation came after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting obtained video from inside the prison appearing to show a policeman putting his knee on Loggins neck or head.
“These deaths in custody have become something of a stain in the fabric of this country we love and cherish and so this family wants to help erase that, especially to bring justice to Robert Loggins,” said Jacob Jordan, the lawyer representing Loggins’ family.
In neighboring Louisiana, another family is fighting for justice for Ronald greene. He died after a police chase in 2019. White soldiers initially blamed his death on the impact of an accident. Graphic body camera images obtained by The Associated Press last month, shows officers repeatedly using stun guns on Greene, hitting him and dragging him by the ankle chains.
Decades ago, civil rights activist Hezekiah Watkins, who was a freedom rider in the 1960s, was arrested over a hundred times.
“Every time I was arrested I was scared because you can never tell when you left for a situation if you will come back,” Watkins said. “This fear is still there.
He now works at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, where his own mug shot hangs on the wall.