‘We cannot stop’: Families of victims push for police reform

family members of people killed by police officers speak at a panel
Family members of people killed by police officers spoke during a panel Monday afternoon.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Several families of Black people killed by police officers around the nation gathered in downtown Minneapolis Monday to call for changes to federal and state law around policing. 

The Minneapolis forum was organized by members of George Floyd's family and included the mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner and others killed by police officers in the United States, as well as advocates. 

Allisa Findley’s brother Botham Jean was shot to death by an off-duty police officer who entered his Dallas apartment in 2018. 

Findley said the fact that some police officers like Derek Chauvin and the former officer who killed her brother have been convicted in criminal court doesn’t mean that the larger issue of police violence against civilians has been addressed. 

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 "We need to band together and keep that fire going. We cannot stop,” Findley said. “We can’t think that it's over, because there's so much left to be done."

K.C. Fox represents the group Sisters of the Movement, which is made up of siblings of people killed by police officers. She said the movement needs to be strategic in focusing on changing the laws. 

Advocates called for changes to state and federal law, the elimination of qualified immunity for police officers and the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. 

“The symptom would be the racist police officers and the police associations that are operating as organized gangs,” Fox said. “The disease would be the racist, discriminatory laws.” 

About 1,000 people are killed by police officers in the U.S. each year, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post.

Panelists criticized media coverage that they said “demonized” the victims of police killings and repeated narratives pushed forward by police officials. They were also critical of some who they accused of using their family members for personal gain. 

Katie Wright’s son Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer last month. She said the broader community and activists need to focus on supporting the families of those who are killed. 

"I think a lot of times people have their own agendas and they want to get their own voices out — whether it's for clout or it's for their own purpose,” Wright said. “Not once have I had somebody come up to me and say, 'Hey, Ms. Wright, what do you want from us?'”

Changing the law isn’t easy, said Gwen Carr, whose son Eric Garner was killed in 2014 in New York City. She and others successfully pushed for bans on chokeholds in her home state.

“Sometimes I fight behind the scene, as well as in front of the scene,” Carr said. “When the cameras go out, I don’t stop fighting. I keep fighting.” 

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the U.S. House but has not yet been voted on by the U.S. Senate. The Minnesota Legislature passed some changes to policing last year, including restrictions on police use of chokeholds. A more ambitious effort this session stalled out after Republican opposition in the state Senate, but could be subject to negotiations in the upcoming special session.