Attorneys representing the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor called for sweeping reforms and other actions to cut down on police violence and increase accountability during a virtual press conference Friday. The event featured attorneys Benjamin Crump and Lee Merritt alongside CNN host Van Jones as moderator. Team Roc, the activist wing of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, hosted the livestream.
During the press conference, Merritt laid out a three-pronged response plan that included calls for new legislation, economic sanctions and boycotts, and bringing the three cases to the United Nations. “We can no longer do this on a case-by-case basis,” Merritt said. “We cannot call and galvanize the community and demand they focus their energy on one incident of injustice when we know that there are over, on average, a thousand police officer-involved shootings a year. That we live in the most incarcerated nation on planet Earth, and that in the process of maintaining that system of mass incarceration, we empower our law enforcement officers to go in and brutalize and over-police black and brown communities.”
“We can’t just keep looking at it regionally,” Crump added. “This is a national pandemic that’s affecting all African Americans. It is a state of emergency. If we don’t address this in the next month or two, we will see another unjustifiable, unnecessary, senseless killing of another unarmed, non-threatening African American at the hands of police or people who pretend to be police.”
Merritt said the group is calling for congressional hearings and a national task force geared towards crafting legislation “specifically designed to deal with the crisis of the lack of accountability and excessive force in American policing.” Later in the press conference, Merritt said the two focal points of any legislation would have to be police accountability and better training for officers so they’re equipped to de-escalate situations.
In terms of accountability, Merritt noted that less than one percent of these cases are ever indicted and cited the district attorney in Minneapolis recently saying there wasn’t yet enough evidence to indict the police officer at the center of Floyd’s death, despite there being numerous videos of the incident. On Friday afternoon, officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with the murder of Floyd.
“The standard is far too high… for civil rights accountability for law enforcement officers,” Merritt said. “We need legislation that specifically goes after qualified immunity and the additional protections offered to law enforcement officers… [W]e want to make sure that the laws from a federal level, number one, that these cases are no longer handled solely locally, but that the federal government will be asked to come in in each of these cases or these states will be denied federal funds.”
Another part of the response plan, Merritt said, was asking the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission to consider hearing the cases of Arbery, Taylor and Floyd. He also spoke about working with grassroots organizers and community members to form a task force and map out more localized solutions.
“We will be asking for economic boycotts and sanctions in these communities where these atrocities continue to occur,” Merritt said. “We will be demanding from both our local leaders and corporate investors and backers to take time to launch a measured and direct campaign in these communities where injustice persists.”
Throughout the press conference, Merritt and Crump spoke about specific issues as they pertained to the cases of Arbery, Taylor and Floyd. For instance, Crump questioned the constitutional validity of “no-knock” warrants, which police used when they entered Taylor’s house before she was killed in a hail of gunfire. In response to a question from Rolling Stone‘s Jamil Smith, Merritt spoke about the specific charges he wanted to see filed against the officers involved in Floyd’s death.
“I think the charges for the George Floyd family should be murder, and we should have felony murder for the other officers involved,” Merritt said. “Because when you conspire, when you participate, and you’re part of a group of people who commit a crime, you will be held responsible for the murder that takes place. That’s true in the black community, that’s true in any inner-city — that if you become a part of a group that goes out and commits a crime and someone dies during the course of that crime, you can anticipate being charged with murder. That’s the appropriate charge for the officer who kept his knee on the neck of George Floyd unrelentingly, but for the other officers that stood around, stopped people from intervening, who did not intervene themselves and were derelict in their duties. They are guilty of murder as well.”
The press conference came after the families of Floyd, Arbery and Taylor issued a joint statement yesterday, in which they said, “We’re devastated about the senseless violence that has broken the hearts of our families. While we are grateful for the outpouring of love and support, it’s important that now — more than ever — we use our voices to enact change, demand accountability within our justice system and keep the legacies of Breonna, Ahmaud and George alive. This is a national crisis and our government needs to take immediate and widespread action to protect our black and brown communities.”