By Haja Isha Bah
“Get off of him! It’s time to get off of him!” shouted Kevin Lawrence at the video that played on his wife’s phone.
It was about 8 pm in Texas, Lawrence’s home state. He was in his gym shorts and a t- shirt watching TV in his bedroom when suddenly his wife came in, held out her phone in front of him, and said “watch this video.” His relaxing evening would then turn into one full of rage. The video showed footage of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd until Floyd died.
Lawrence was upset that a man had been killed, but he also was disappointed in Chauvin. As a former police of-ficer, he saw Chauvin’s actions as “a viable con-trol technique taught by most police depart-ments” for moments where an officer needed to gain control of a situ-ation. But Lawrence says Chauvin remained on Floyd for far too long. “There’s a care that po-lice officers have, and it was being ignored in the situation,” he says. “The impression I was getting from the look on that officer’s face was that he just didn’t care, and that’s what bothered me about it.”
Since 2010, Lawrence has been the executive director of the Texas Mu-nicipal Police Association (TMPA), which provides legal protection, political lobbying, and training for officers across Texas. TMPA’s mission is “to turn Law enforcement into a true profession,” Lawrence says, “to provide the citizens of Texas with the best possible police services through both education and representation.”
So to see police murder a man without any re-morse was embarrassing to Lawrence. As a former officer and a representative of officers across Texas, he was upset by Chauvin making life more difficult for cops: “900,000 other law enforcement officers across this country, they’re all gonna be judged based on [his actions].”
One of the main fac-tors that Lawrence be-lieves contributed to Floyd’s death was a lack of training. Lawrence says in Minneapolis, “some officers had been trained one way and other of-ficers whose trainings were outdated and they had not been updated; they had not retrained on new policies.” TMPA reached out to agencies to ensure that training standards were up to date and that all officers were being trained prop-erly on every policy. This would, in Lawrence’s opinion, prevent officers from making the same “mistake” as Chauvin.
Across the country, on Princeton Universi-ty’s campus in New Jer-sey, Gina Feliz saw the Chauvin video too. Like Lawrence, Feliz was re-laxing in her room, “not really expecting much to come of [her] summer.” Feliz opened social media, expecting more Covid-related news, only to be met with the tragic death of a Black man. Uncomfortable with the idea of sharing footage depicting police brutal-ity, Feliz made the conscious decision to not watch the video.
Feliz was already in-volved in Students for Prison Education, Abo-lition, and Reform (SPEAR), a student group run through Princeton’s Pace Center for Civic En-gagement. “We activate, agitate, and advocate against the carceral state in all forms,” she says, by engaging in what the group’s website describes as “anti-carceral campus activism, legislative advo-cacy, community educa-tion, and direct engage-ment with currently and formerly incarcerated peers.”
Unlike Lawrence, Feliz believes simply reform-ing policies and trainings won’t change anything; police brutality will con-tinue as if these reforms never existed. What Law-rence calls solutions, Fel-iz considers “non-reformist reforms.” She points out that more than 1,000 people are killed by po-lice each year, many of them in jurisdictions that have already imple-mented changes like the ones Lawrence describes. “On face value, you think that they might help,” she says. “At the same time, they are restoring legitimacy in the police as a whole because peo-ple see that something’s happening and they ac-cept that things will get better from there.”
George Floyd’s death affected many lives across the country and shaped many decisions that have changed America in big and small ways. Officers feel compelled to stand up for their colleagues, while activists are pushed towards police abolition. A year after protesters filled the streets, Floyd’s death has only intensified many Americans’ feelings about policing and reform.