Andrea Jenkins, vice president of the Minneapolis City Council, urged her colleagues in local government to declare racism a public health issue after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
An emergency public health declaration could help alleviate a 400-year-old sickness, Jenkins suggested during a city press conference Thursday.
Floyd, 46, died Monday after a police officer kneeled on his neck and appeared to ignore his pleas for air long after he stopped moving, video showed.
“We feel as if there was a knee on all of our collective necks ― a knee that says Black life does not matter,” Jenkins began.
“You stand here grieving yet another loss of Black life. A senseless, tragic loss of Black life. I really don’t have many words, but I know that something’s got to change,” she said.
“So I am asking my colleagues, the mayor, and anyone else who is concerned with the state of affairs in our community to declare a state of emergency declaring racism as a public health issue. Until we name this virus, this disease that has infected America for the past 400 years, we will never, ever resolve this issue.”
Four Minneapolis police officers were fired this week in the wake of the killing, and Mayor Jacob Frey has called for charges against them.
“To those who say bringing up racism is racist in and of itself, I say to you, if you don’t call cancer what it is, you can never cure that disease,” Jenkins said. Jenkins is known for being the first openly transgender African American woman elected to public office in the U.S., in 2018.
Protests in the Minneapolis area over Floyd’s death erupted Wednesday night following a daylong peaceful demonstration outside a police station, where officers attempted to disperse the crowd using tear gas and rubber bullets. After nightfall, some people set fire to an Auto Zone and vandalized a Target and some other businesses.
One man was shot and killed, reportedly by a pawn store owner who was soon arrested.
Frey, the mayor, has pleaded with residents to express their anger nonviolently.
“Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy,” he told The Star Tribune.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is currently investigating Floyd’s death, the latest in a pattern of police violence against Black people that has fueled the Black Lives Matter movement.
Floyd’s death also comes a few weeks after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery sparked anger around the nation. Arbery, a Black Georgia man, was out for a jog when two white men chased and fatally shot him in February. His death became national news after video of the shooting emerged and went viral. The men who killed Arbery have since been arrested.