Melina Abdullah on ‘semblance of justice’ for George Floyd and what actually makes communities safe

Written by Jenna Kagel and Amy Ta

A person reacts after the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the death of George Floyd, in front of Hennepin County Government Center, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 20, 2021. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters.

On Tuesday after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, Black Lives Matter-LA co-founder Melina Abdullah gathered with other activists outside LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s house. 

She told the crowd, “We are celebrating our collective power. We are celebrating the fact that we forced a criminal legal system to see us and to fear us. We got to say the people did that. We did that. We got some semblance of justice in the name of George Floyd.”

As someone who has long been on the front lines of protests against police brutality, Abdullah says Tuesday’s verdict was a sigh of relief for herself and many others. 

However, she points out that it’s just one step in the long struggle for justice. “And even as we were collectively exhaling, we know that Ma’Khia Bryant was murdered by police in Columbus, Ohio. And so until the system is completely transformed, completely reimagined, this will only be a step and not the victory.”

The role of community activism in the Chauvin verdict and the future

“Activism was everything,” Abdullah says. “We know that without activism, without organizing, without the massive uprisings that we saw over the last year, millions of people around the globe getting into the streets in the name of George Floyd — that we wouldn't have had the prosecution of Derek Chauvin at all, let alone a guilty verdict.”

She adds that the Chauvin verdict must push forward a movement to overhaul public safety, particularly for all those who have been killed. 

What police reform should look like 

Abdullah says, “We want to divest from the unjust system. We want to take back our dollars. And we want to invest them in things that actually make communities safe.”

For example, she says, safe communities are built via education, mental health resources, and housing. “We want to begin by moving police out of spaces that we can all agree that they don't belong. So that's how we start to defund the police.”

That should be followed by a critical conversation on how policing is not the answer to community safety, she says, and intervention workers and programs like 2nd Call or The Reverence Project could help inform that conversation.  

In the city’s general fund, the proportion that goes to the LAPD should instead be invested in “things that actually make the community safe,” Abdullah says. “We're in budget season, so this is absolutely a budget fight and why we've been doing work with People's Budget LA.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s announcement of more LAPD funding

“He actually had the audacity to call it a justice budget when we know that it's absolutely an injustice budget,” Abdullah says. “The budget is a moral and ethical document. And under Garcetti, what we've seen is the LAPD budget increase by half a billion dollars since he took office. And so he is not moving in the way that actually ushers in justice.”

She adds that this uptick in spending is “absolutely horrific,” especially following three independent investigations that criticized how police treated demonstrators. 

What police should and shouldn’t respond to

Abdullah says that almost 90% of 911 calls are not for violent crimes or mass shootings. “They are for things like my neighbor parked in my driveway. And we don't need police responding to those kinds of things.”

She cites a recent report that shows police nationwide succeed at solving some 2% of major crimes. “If you were only successful at your job less than 2% of the time, that wouldn't be just the end of your career, it would be the end of your entire industry.” 

She says importance should be placed on the motivations behind violent crimes, such as people lacking resources and facing unresolved mental health issues. 

“How do we flood our neighborhoods with resources rather than flooding them with armed folks who see targets on the backs of our people, especially Black people?”

Credits

Guest:

  • Melina Abdullah - professor in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA and an organizer of the Black Lives Matter movement - @DocMellyMel