When City Councilor Lydia Edwards first viewed the cellphone footage of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until he died she had to stop the video several times.
“I had to stop it several times,” said Edwards, who was elected as District 1’s first African American City Councilor. “I couldn’t watch it to completion. I cried and then got so angry. I just remember thinking the policeman looks so calm. There was no real concern, no sense of urgency. Usually, when I think of police brutality I think it happens in the heat of the moment. There is a sense of urgency and quick thoughts and faster movements. But this officer wasn’t scared, wasn’t moving fast. He just didn’t care.”
After the anger, Edwards said she remembers feeling immense depression and sorrow.
“I even wished my 5 ½ month old nephew wasn’t a boy,” she said. “I feel so guilty and I question having children and I certainly don’t want to have a boy. I feel immense pressure to do all that I can to make sure something like that doesn’t happen here. I have lost sleep and my appetite over the stress. I feel so much is expected of me as a politician who is black. I wonder how “black” I can be? I wonder what will be the straw that breaks my purple district’s back. Maybe I am not giving my district a fair chance.”
But while cities burn and racial tension is at an all time high, how do we move forward with a positive dialogue among citizens, police and politicians to gain not only understanding of Floyd’s death but to spark real change.
“The pain that people are feeling has to be acknowledged first,” said Edwards. “We need to know our history. We can’t make policy in a vacuum. We need to confront our own biases and know that if we each have a part to play. We need to stop confusing police accountability with being anti police. It’s literally my job to ask tough questions but too many people think that means I don’t trust or like the police.”
Edwards has always maintained a great working relationship with the Boston Police, especially the men and women serving at Eastie District A-7. With the majority of officers here just as sad, angry and frustrated by not only the actions of Officer Chauvin but the actions of other officers in other cases, Edwards has the tough job of balancing her relationship with the police with calls for real reform locally and nationally.
“I encourage any of the police officers to stand with advocates and denounce police brutality,” said Edwards. “If we’re trying to really solve systemic racism and police brutality, reform needs to happen at an institutional level. We also need to hold bad actors within them accountable. I have great respect for the community police officers in East Boston. They’ve been shoulder to shoulder with residents on a multitude of issues. These moments of pain and grief allow us to take a step back and assess how we can do better as a society. We have an opportunity to restructure an entire system. We can work with the police to help define what equitable, compassionate policing looks like. We just ask for full recognition that what we have now isn’t working and listen to our calls for true reform. . There are calls for several reforms including a citizens review board for police officers that are bad actors. I think that is worth exploring.”
With the majority of protesters participating in peaceful demonstrations throughout Boston in memory of George Floyd, Sunday night’s rioting, looting and violence was sparked by a small element within a protest that had remained peaceful for several hours.
Watching the news coverage Sunday night, Edwards said she could not speak about the intentions of individuals who decided to turn their actions on the police or if they were even a part of the peaceful demonstration earlier in the day.
However, she said, “I can tell you that the crowd that assembled from Nubian Square to Downtown was beautifully diverse and represented the best parts of Boston. These were residents who took to the streets to call out what happened against George Floyd and other people of color for what it is: acts of police brutality and racism. They assembled to call for action and tangible change against systems of oppression and they did so peacefully. . There were many people from other cities that came to cause havoc and I resent them for co-opting the moment.”
It’s been 52 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated fighting for racial justice. Announcing his death to a crowd in Indianapolis Robert F. Kennedy said, “the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.”
However, in those 52 years some are still not sure we have had an honest conversation with ourselves as a nation when it comes to race relations.
“There are still people that believe the Civil War was about state’s rights and not slavery,” said Edwards. “We have people that won’t acknowledge the pain of people like my colleague City Council President Kim Janey who was bussed into Charlestown. We don’t need to look that far back to know we haven’t had an honest conversation in Boston about our school system, our housing and neighborhood segregation. Not talking about race and racism to our children, to our co-workers and to our politicians. After 52 years we are still dealing with this. What can we do? Listen to the pain of the African American community and other marginalized groups. Instead, too many people will call me and others a “snowflake” to dismiss my pain. Legitimize the trauma and pain felt by the African American community in particular after each death at the hands of the police. Acknowledge that we got here through a system of laws and intentional systemic racism. Therefore, we must be intentional and use our laws to heal our community. Personally, everyone should identify structural inequities and analyze how to restructure one’s own behaviors to fix it. Learn the full history and perpetuation of racism in this country and how it has set us up for inequality. Most importantly, put words into action. I joined the Black and Latino Caucus of Legislators on Tuesday to release a 10-point plan of federal, state, and municipal actions. I’m over the hashtags – we need prescriptive policies to heal this country.”
Edwards said she will continue to help her constituents who need to voice their frustrations over this senseless death.
“In times like these everyone is going to process things differently,” she said. “I will support my constituents’ right to protest and demand change from me and other elected officials. I promise to listen to their frustrations and pain as I think about my role in implementing policy that will lead to change. I don’t deny or question their pain. I ask how I can help them heal. This is an opportunity to reassess how we do business. We have been handed a baton and the question is what we are going to do to make this a better world for our children. What are we going to pass onto them?”