News Brief: Floyd Memorial, Plans To Overhaul Police Departments
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
George Floyd has returned home. Over the weekend, the body of the 46-year-old black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis arrived in Floyd's hometown of Houston. There will be a memorial service today, and then tomorrow, George Floyd will be laid to rest. All the while, the protests happening in his name as a response to his killing continue across this country. David, you are there in Houston. What have you learned about George Floyd from just being there talking to people?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, I mean, we've learned how much he meant to a lot of people in this city, Rachel, and that's really what we're here for. I mean, his name is going to be said out loud a lot this week as he is laid to rest. And we wanted to understand the man's life, and friends spoke often about his height. I mean, he would stand out in a crowd.
MARTIN: His height (laughter).
GREENE: Yeah, exactly. But really they would say he stood out in so many other ways. I mean, people who knew him, especially some just younger than him, said that Big Floyd, as everyone called him, was someone they would turn to for a feeling of protection. He would tell younger kids to stay off the streets at night. He would give them a few dollars if they needed some money or food. I mean, his mom, who as we know he called out for in those final moments of his life, served burgers in the neighborhood. And if kids were hungry, having trouble finding something to eat, came for a burger. They could always count on Big Floyd and his mom.
MARTIN: Can you say more about where he was from? What's his community like?
GREENE: Yeah. I mean, we went there yesterday. He grew up in Houston's Third Ward, which is a historically black neighborhood. He lived in a public housing community that residents very fondly call the bricks. It's two-story brick buildings, and many of them are set around this basketball court. And yesterday, the church he was part of held a service outside there yesterday. It was small. It was more personal than the larger memorial planned today. And the pastor, P.T. Ngwolo, said that he knew that their brother's death, as he put it, has reverberated around the world. And he was leading worshippers in a lamentation to express their anger. And then we spoke to him afterwards, and he talked about Floyd's service. He said that in the bricks, it was so important to build trust if you're an outsider. And when the pastor would come to the neighborhood wanting to improve lives, Floyd would tell residents that they should should trust Ngwolo, that he was someone worth listening to.
P T NGWOLO: He literally would tell my guy over there if it's God's business, it's my business. And so I think he'd been through the wars, understood what was needed in this neighborhood. He wanted good for the younger cats who were looking up to him.
GREENE: And, Rachel, there's this small grocery store just a few blocks away from there. There's this gorgeous mural of Floyd's face on the wall. There's a halo above his head. It says forever breathing in our hearts. And there's also this message in loving memory of Big Floyd, Texas made, Third Ward raised, and there was just a stream of people coming.
MARTIN: Yeah. So, David, when you had conversations with people there, what do they make of the larger movement that has begun in George Floyd's name? I mean, people across the country calling for change, do they think this is some kind of inflection point.
GREENE: I mean, they want it to be. More than a few said that on top of all of their grief and anger, I mean, it's important to understand who he was and who has been lost here. He is someone who tried to turn his life around here in Houston and get a fresh start in Minneapolis, someone who was on a path wanting change for himself and also for others. And that's what they say they want to fight for now. And I should say people have been moved to action. Right after that church service I mentioned ended yesterday, some of Floyd's friends had set up tables right on that basketball court. Those tables were there to register voters.
MARTIN: OK. David, thank you. We appreciate it.
GREENE: You bet.
MARTIN: And we'll look for your reporting throughout the week.
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MARTIN: All right. The chants of black lives matter have been joined by another rallying cry - defund the police. And yesterday in the city where George Floyd was killed by police, the Minneapolis City Council responded to that call in a rally.
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LISA BENDER: Our commitment is to end our city's toxic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department, to end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.
MARTIN: The voice of the city council president Lisa Bender there announcing the council's intention to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. NPR's Adrian Florido was there in that park. He saw that announcement. And he is with us now. Adrian, good morning. What exactly does that promise entail? What does this mean?
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Well, it means that the city council is going to begin passing, according to the council president and the other council members who were at this meeting last night - yesterday afternoon - they're going to begin passing ordinances to begin dismantling the police department in Minneapolis. And they said they're going to do that through a series of budget and policy decisions in the weeks and months ahead. So this is a huge announcement, and it's not just a few council members who have said this. It's nine of the city council's 13 members, meaning that that would be enough to override a veto from the mayor if the mayor chose to veto any ordinance that the city council passed. You know, the mayor, Jacob Frey, has said that he supports reforming the police department in Minneapolis but not dismantling the department altogether. And that's something that he reiterated yesterday after these members of the city council made its announcement. But the council president, Lisa Bender, she said yesterday that, you know, years of reform efforts have failed in the city, which is why she said that she and other members of the council decided to take this step. It's something that activists in the city, especially black activists, have been calling for for several years now.
MARTIN: Has the police department responded?
FLORIDO: No. The department has not issued any statements yet and neither has the powerful police officers union, though a lot of people here expect the union to put up a fierce fight against this proposal.
MARTIN: So, obviously, I mean, calling for dismantling the police force raises all kinds of questions about what would come in its stead - right? - what would fill that public safety vacuum. Do we have any idea what it would look like?
FLORIDO: So that is still very uncertain. And council members yesterday said as much. Listen to what Councilman Jeremiah Ellison said at that meeting in the park yesterday.
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JEREMIAH ELLISON: We recognize that we don't have all the answers to what a police-free future looks like, but we know that the community does.
FLORIDO: Council members and activists have talked a lot about a need to just dramatically rethink public safety and emergency response in this city to make these things community based. But, again, they say there's a lot of work to do to figure this out going forward.
MARTIN: I mean, protesters wanted this. They were calling for it. What about other residents in Minneapolis? Is this popular this idea?
FLORIDO: Well, the hundreds of people in the crowd yesterday were thrilled about it, which makes sense. These are people who have been protesting in the streets for two weeks now. How this decision will be received by residents in the city at large is still a big question, though. And even among the crowd yesterday, the announcement did take a lot of people by surprise. Listen to Alex Chapman (ph) a student I spoke with in the crowd.
ALEX CHAPMAN: To be honest with you, I have the same question that a lot of people out here. You know, what happens if we don't have any police? I think it is a bold statement, but I think we're in a moment in history where we need a bold statement.
FLORIDO: Chapman told me that he is looking forward to the proposals that activists and the city council come up with.
MARTIN: NPR's Adrian Florido reporting from Minneapolis. Adrian, thank you. We appreciate it.
FLORIDO: Thanks, Rachel.
MARTIN: So that announcement in Minneapolis is part of a growing movement to reimagine what public safety and policing looks like in the U.S. And today, Democrats on Capitol Hill are introducing their own plan. They're unveiling legislation to make wide-ranging changes at police departments across the country. And they're hoping that these protests we've been seeing across the country are going to shift momentum in their direction. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now for more. Claudia, good morning. What could this legislation do? How specific is it?
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning. It would address a lot of the concerns we're hearing about in this national outcry for police reform. We should note that a lot of the details of this legislation were provided to NPR by a Democratic aide. We're expected to see these details rolled out later today. And we understand it would prohibit the use of chokehold. It would lower the legal standards to pursue criminal and civil penalties against police. And it would ban no-knock warrants in drug-related cases. It would also create a national registry to track police misconduct. And Democrats think they're on the right track with these proposals. Here's one of the bill's sponsors, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, speaking with NPR on Sunday.
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CORY BOOKER: These are commonsense changes that, frankly, will create a far greater level of accountability for those police officers who violate the law, who violate our rights and who violate our common community standards.
GRISALES: The legislation would also limit the transfer of military-grade weapons to state and local law enforcement agencies. And it would empower state attorneys general and the Justice Department in their probes of police misconduct.
MARTIN: So Republicans weren't part of the talks for this bill, right, Claudia? And the parties are far apart on what a reformed police department road map looks like for the country. Are any Republicans on board with this?
GRISALES: So that remains to be seen. They've spoken out in terms of concerns of these police brutality claims in the wake of George Floyd's death and these national protests. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have noted there are systemic problems here. Among them Mitt Romney of Utah joined protesters marching here in Washington, D.C., yesterday. But Republicans...
MARTIN: Right. I saw that.
GRISALES: Yes. And so that image just was really seen across the country as kind of a representation that we are concerned here. But Republicans weren't part of the talks to develop this Democratic proposal. And so they're a long way from negotiations. And the Senate Judiciary Committee - this is a Republican-led panel - is holding a hearing on police use of force next week, but there's no real traction on a counterproposal from the GOP. So it's a reminder that Congress faces an uphill battle when it comes to solving problems that a lot of people say should be solved at the state and local levels.
MARTIN: Any indication on the timeline on the bill?
GRISALES: So it looks like it will be rolled out later today. And the House could take it up by the end of the month. But even all that said, the Republican-led Senate, the fate there is less clear.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Claudia Grisales for us on this. Claudia, thank you. We appreciate it.
GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.