Civil rights activists speak to what's needed for positive societal change

Posted at 2:37 PM, Mar 10, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The street where George Floyd took his last breath has transformed into a memorial demanding peace, justice and change.

“Here we are in 2021 and we are still fighting for our civil and human rights,” Valerie Castile said.

Valerie Castile, who lost her son, Philando Castile, when he was shot by a police officer five years ago, says the upcoming trials in the death of Floyd are forcing her to relive the trauma of her past.

“Ya know, it sucks," Ms. Castile said. "My life sucks, but I keep fighting for the future leaders of this country.”

That sadness and frustration ignited a fire in her to demand change.

“What it will take is to reconstruct the training for these police officers,“ Ms. Castile said. "They haven’t been trained the right way dealing with different cultures of people. They not ethically in tune and most important, they have forgotten about the sanctity of human life.”

Ms. Castile says she’s working with lawmakers on a bill that would address systemic racism and invest $1 billion into communities of color. Macalester College American studies professor Dr. Duchess Harris says criminal justice reform happens with legislation and legislation is the outcome of activism.

“I mean my academic training shows me that social movements actually lead to electoral politics for Black communities,” Dr. Harris said. “You have someone like Cori Bush who was a first responder when Michael Brown was killed. She was a nurse who was out there during the protests and she ended up running for Congress and winning and she became a member of Congress in January.”

In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, there are collective efforts to end systemic racism in the justice system. Huda Ahmed is the project director of Justice for All, a collaboration between Greater Twin Cities United Way and other foundations.

“I’m working alongside a core team of justice-impacted or justice-involved individuals that have gone through the justice system, and system leaders, so county attorneys, judges, together convening them to co-define the priority areas for transformation and then co-create some solution that then these foundations can fund the piloting those solutions of,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed says the first step to change is admitting there’s a problem and having the willingness to fix it.

“Well I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know the ins and outs of how trials go and why someone would be acquitted," Ahmed said. "But I do know in talking to law enforcement as part of our work that we often hear this defensiveness that ‘we’re not racist, so why are we being accused of being racist’ and I refocus the conversation like there’s systemic racism within the system without having specific racists.”

Ahmed, Dr. Harris, and Ms. Castile all say they would like to see justice for Floyd. University of Minnesota political science professor Dr. August Nimtz says he believes justice will be served if the officers are convicted.

“As long as cities are willing to pay the families of victims, to do pay outs, that doesn’t discourage the cops from changing their behavior," Dr. Nimtz said. "It’s only when they start going to jail in significant numbers will we be able to end this practice.”

Dr. Nimtz says he would like to see a police force that serves the interests of the community instead of the elite. And for everyone’s humanity to be recognized.

“I think we have evidence to be optimistic," Dr. Nimtz said. "In 1920, 10,000 people came out in the streets to celebrate the lynching of three Black men. And in 2020, they came out to denounce to express their outrage. It registers the kinds of changes that have taken place.”