My heart is heavy, weighed down with mourning and full with the power of accountability.
Like so many healthcare worker across Pennsylvania, I was horrified and enraged by the on-video murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Like fair-minded people all over our country and around the world, I saw this killing as an injustice that had to be righted.
For our Black coworkers, friends and neighbors, this murder evoked not only outrage but also dread. Watching a police officer kill George Floyd in full view of other officers and bystanders evoked the deaths of hundreds of Black people at the hands of police. Countless Black member leaders in our union have shared their own fears for their loved ones, compounded by a prevailing sense that the law rarely holds police to account.
The guilty verdict handed down in the George Floyd murder trial breaks this pattern.
No jury or judge can bring back a murdered man to his children and grandchildren, but at least they know now that the killer will have to answer for his actions.
No one verdict brings justice for all the victims of state violence, but the possibility of accountability can create a moment to reflect on what it will take to realize the profound social change we need.
The conviction of George Floyd’s killer would not have been possible without the extraordinary courage and initiative of Darnella Frazier, a teenage girl who recorded the murder. Her determination to bear witness helped prove the guilt of the killer.
Darnella’s video also galvanized millions of people to join in actions for Black lives. From Minnesota to Pennsylvania and from England to Brazil, people marched and rallied to demand justice. The sympathy of the world was moved by the movement. In turn, the legal, political, and public policy debate around policing and systemic racism shifted.
It would be understandable if Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison expressed pride in the tireless work of his legal team to secure a conviction, but his remarks convey a sober sense of how much remains to be done:
“We need true justice. That’s not one case. That is a social transformation that says that nobody’s beneath the law and nobody’s above it. This verdict reminds us that we must make enduring, systematic, societal change.”
Keith Ellison is not in office by accident. Before he was the people’s lawyer, Attorney General Ellison was a Congressman and a community activist fighting for economic and social justice. He would not have been in a position to prosecute George Floyd’s murder without the organizing and political action of a diverse grassroots coalition which includes our fellow SEIU members in Minnesota.
If we draw a line from Attorney General Ellison to the movement for Black lives and finally to Darnella Frazier, we may begin to see a path to true justice.
We need champions in office with the determination to stand up for what is right.
For our champions to stand tall, we need to a powerful coalition to organize for political action.
For politics to shift, however, we need a social movement that can overcome opposition and place equality on the agenda of our communities.
Finally, for the movement to come together, we need ordinary individuals to take risks to do what is right.
May the family of George Floyd find peace.
May our union be an organization of working people that helps make the path to true justice by walking together.
-Matthew W. Yarnell, President, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania
April 20, 2021