The murder of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25 in Minneapolis impacted communities across the nation.
About a year later, on April 20, Chauvin was found guilty on all counts. Asked how they felt about the outcome of the trial, many Express-Star readers on social media said they were relieved. Community members also described how they feel a year after Floyd's death.
A pastor reflected on the long history of distrust among people of color and law enforcement officers. A Chickasha City Council member discussed the importance of localizing the conversation. Chickasha's police chief said law enforcement agencies must continue to update their policies.
Pastor Vaughn Wand
The tension between law enforcement and communities of color is as old as the Civil War – and even older, according to Vaughn Wand, a retired serviceman and pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Chickasha.
According to Wand, the U.S. has never come to grips with its racism. This was not the first time a white cop was filmed assaulting a Black person. Television network news showed the brutal assault on Rodney King in living rooms across the nation in 1992.
This time, it was different. For one thing, it was not just Black citizens protesting, Wand said. Many communities of color, marginalized communities and white people joined in. Because of the cell phone video taken by Darnell Frazier, a teenager on the scene, the world saw what happened.
“The images show the story,” Wand said. “Chauvin decided he would mete out justice on the street ... all over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill."
Wand said communities of color doubted Chauvin would receive justice in the court system. The “cozy relationship” between law enforcement officers and the judicial system needs to change, he said. And with the conviction of Chauvin, Wand said he is feeling hopeful.
“I will use that word … hopeful,” he said.
But Wand is also waiting to see if the judicial system will lighten the load during sentencing. Wand believes the other officers involved were intimidated by Chauvin. However, they also witnessed an unlawful act and did nothing to stop it. Accountability is needed, Wand said, and it would probably be in the officers’ best interest to take a plea deal.
According to Wand, the law enforcement community has hidden behind phrases like “taken out of context” and “resisting arrest” to justify the use of excessive force. But with the video, the public could see that Floyd was detained and in the patrol car before Chauvin decided to pull him back out and kneel on his neck.
When he saw the video, Wand said, “I was disgusted. I was absolutely disgusted.”
The video brought back memories of people of color facing excessive aggression from law enforcement officers.
“Most of the time, people of color have been on the negative side of the issue. This time was different," he said.
Wand said he does not support defunding the police, because the full resources of law and order are needed at all times. However, there is dire need for reform.
Wand said that while he knows Chauvin does not represent all law enforcement officers, there is a long-standing mistrust between them and communities of color. Healing is needed. Wand still holds his breath when he sees police, because some officers have a heightened aggression when communicating with a person of color.
“I’ve experienced that overreaction,” Wand said.
And the generational trauma continues. Wand said that in the Black community, children eventually receive the talk—a discussion between parents and children about the possible dangers of dealing with authority figures, including law enforcement. Wand has given his own sons “the talk," and he still fears for them. But if the situation is to improve, another difficult discussion must be held.
“Everyone needs to step back from the edge of the cliff,” Wand said.
He said both parties need to come to the table without being defensive or overly angry, and acknowledging the bad blood between them.
“We have to talk about raw things. We have to talk about ugly things," he said.
Wand said it was heartening to see law enforcement officers who supported the Black Lives Matter protests. And he is concerned about red states like Oklahoma, passing anti-protest bills or measures that restrict protests. He suggests doing battle in the voting booth.
“We need to galvanize the forces,” he said.
Dr. R.P. Ashanti-Alexander
Dr. R.P. Ashanti-Alexander does not view incidents like the one in Minneapolis as tragedies that happen elsewhere.
“There could be George Floyds in Chickasha too,” he said.
Ashanti-Alexander has served on the Chickasha City Council since 2012. He represents Ward 3, which includes a concentrated population of Black residents. He is the President of Chickasha’s NAACP Chapter and the Principal of Lincoln Elementary School. He has been an educator for more than 40 years.
He said the strong public reaction to Floyd’s murder was motivated by “just the right sparks” being in place: the COVID-19 pandemic, job loss, financial worries, grief and a contentious election looming at the end of the year.
As a council member, Ashanti-Alexander said he has been patiently waiting for Chickasha to be seen as an entire city from all perspectives. He said when he sees incidents like the one in Minneapolis, he questions whether things are being put in place to prevent them from happening in Chickasha.
The incident has a momentum that should be viewed as an opportunity, he said.
“We need to go to work so we don’t have to go over the same ground again.”
At 71, Ashanti-Alexander has seen Lincoln School change from a segregated school for Black children to an elementary school for all fifth and sixth graders in Chickasha.
He was initiated to the venom of racism when he was about the same age as his students.
This first encounter took place inside a local pharmacy when he was 10-years-old.
A white woman yelled at her son to not sit next to him. She used a racial slur, with a hard tone. Ashanti-Alexander said he didn’t know what she was talking about at first.
“I [had] never heard that word like that,” he said.
Decades later, there are still towns where it is dangerous for people of color to be when the sun goes down. The current political climate has also created an environment where bigotry has been used as a weapon, he said.
When he saw the video of Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, “I felt a sense of ‘here we go again,’” Ashanti-Alexander said.
He said he expected Chauvin to get away with his crime, and he was surprised that Chauvin was convicted on April 20. Ashanti-Alexander, too, is waiting to hear what Chauvin’s sentence will be.
There have been many comparisons between police presence and response to the Black Lives Matter protests and a mostly-white mob storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Ashanti-Alexander is among those who are critical of the discrepancy.
“The rushing of the Capitol proved laws don’t mean what we say they do for everybody.”
When encountering police, Ashanti-Alexander learned, like other people of color, to “show your hands, don’t make any sudden moves.”
However, he said the issue is bigger than law enforcement and he knows police officers who are good people, including family members.
As for improving race relations, Ashanti-Alexander said he is critical of platitudes like “I don’t see color” or “We’re going to do better.” He said he believes that in people’s hearts, they really do want to do better.
“The burden of racial justice is always put on people of color,” he said. “It should be on all of us.”
Ashanti-Alexander said he is willing to sit down with any Chickasha resident who wants to improve racial relations and promote equality.
“Rather than talking about it, let’s come together and do something about it.”
As a council member, Ashanti-Alexander has made a concentrated effort to address racism within Chickasha’s own history. Recently, he requested that the City make reparations for the 1930 lynching of Henry Argo, a Black man who was killed by a mob while he was being held in the Chickasha jail. No one was ever arrested for Argo’s murder. This was the last known lynching in Oklahoma, Ashanti-Alexander said. At the time of this report, a resolution condemning the actions leading up to Argo’s death is expected in the near future.
Chickasha Police Chief Kathryn Rowell
Police Chief Kathryn Rowell said the Chickasha Police Department’s overall response to the news of Floyd’s death was “disappointment, disgust and anger.”
A grassroots Black Lives Matter protest in late May 2020 grew from one person to a small crowd, and the Chickasha Police Department responded with full support. Officers stopped to talk to protesters about their concerns. Videos were shared on social media of officers expressing their appreciation for protestors exercising their right to protest peacefully. Patrol cars even escorted the protesters as they marched down US-81 from Grand Avenue to Chickasha Avenue, which is about a mile.
Rowell has the distinction of being the first woman to serve as Chickasha Chief of Police in the city’s history. She joined the department in 2019. She has been proactive in updating the department’s policies, both before and after the incident in Minneapolis.
Within six months of taking office, Rowell made changes to the department’s use-of-force policy. The Chickasha Police Department’s use of force policy does not allow the carotid control hold or lateral vascular neck restraint, she said.
Rowell said she is disappointed there are police departments in the nation who have not been proactive in updating these policies.
““Even if a Police Chief has no idea what an updated policy might look like, IACP, Lexipol, and other organizations provide model policies to use as templates.”
Agencies may then adapt policies as local ordinances, state laws and case laws allow, she said.
Rowell gave an example of how these polices may change after an incident like the one in Minneapolis.
“CPD uses Lexipol for guidance in creating and updating policies. From the George Floyd incident, an update to use of force was sent out by Lexipol. I again updated CPD’s Use of Force policy in 2020 to further follow Lexipol’s guidance.”
Chickasha Police Department officers have also worn body cameras since 2015.
While most protests were peaceful, including the demonstration in Chickasha, the eruptions of violence were not a surprise to Rowell.
“My thoughts were right there with my officers,” Rowell said. “I knew the incident would generate national outrage, which would be used as fodder by some as an excuse to destroy public [and/or] private property.”