Opinions

‘Nine minutes is an eternity’

Protesters kneel near a memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis on June 5.
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Post readers across the nation describe how George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests and debates have changed their lives, and what they hope for the future. Here are some of their stories.

Dan Madden, 52, Petaluma, Calif.: At a protest in June, we all kneeled silently in an intersection for nine minutes, the amount of time Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck. By the time I stood back up, something had shifted in me like a seismic plate.

Nine minutes is an eternity.

I kneeled for what seemed like two minutes until a piece of gravel under my knee made me move. I checked the time. It had only been 50 seconds. Three minutes in, I went to two knees to relieve pain in my back. As I settled back on my legs, I sobbed, which surprised me. I ducked my head, glad I was wearing a mask, because the sobs kept coming. The buzzing anger I had felt over the past two weeks was gone. I felt horror, bone deep, and sorrow so overwhelming I hoped I would be able to get up off my knees.

I raised myself upright, like my father demanded at Sunday Mass when I was a child, and looked around for something or someone to anchor me. I saw drivers who were blocked by the protest emerging from their cars and kneeling with us. A cheer went up. I let myself fall apart.

The clock ticked on.

Without my consent, my imagination took me to Mr. Floyd’s last nine minutes. I couldn’t get close enough to understand what he was enduring, but I imagined frantic terror and, at the end, profound loneliness.

The clock reached five minutes. I think.

I thought about Mr. Floyd’s family. What are they holding on to? How do they get up off their knees? I lost track of time. The pain in my back and the tears in my eyes subsided. There was something prayerful in the moment.

A cellphone alarm beeped, ending the nine minutes.

Mr. Floyd died.

I am crying as I write this, grieving. I am grateful, though, for that nine minutes that broke me open so I can feel what is at stake. Most of the country is feeling it, too. People who grieve never quit trying to find meaning in the deaths of their loved ones.

That is why we will win.

Manny Hidalgo, 50, Silver Spring: In the summer of 1987, just days after my last exam as a high school senior and a few months before leaving for college in D.C., I was beaten up and falsely detained by several police officers in Miami Beach.

Some classmates and I were at a hotel and from a ninth-floor balcony we witnessed a brawl on the pool deck between seemingly rival gangs. About 10 minutes later, a group of six to seven Miami Beach police officers came to our floor looking for the gang members. They assumed we were the culprits, and one of the officers started shoving my best friend around. As I stared at the abusive officer’s badge number, he asked what I was doing. I said I was going to inform the mayor of Miami Beach of his actions.

Suddenly, another police officer threw me to the ground and handcuffed me. Three officers then shoved me into the elevator out of sight of any witnesses. The officers took turns bashing my shoulder into the walls, as blood began seeping through my t-shirt. Being unable to protect yourself while handcuffed is a traumatic experience. It’s a far cry from having a knee on your neck and being choked to death, but as a 17-year-old in the custody of abusive police, I can say I was terrified.

They took me to the station. My friends called my parents and told them what happened. When they arrived, the lead officer’s story was, of course, radically different. He alleged that I was disorderly and resisted arrest, even though I was never formally arrested or read my rights.

My parents and I contemplated suing the Miami Beach Police Department, but we didn’t have the time or money to hire an attorney. As I reflect on my violent encounter with the police 30 years ago, I know that change must happen to avoid senseless loss of life and further erosion of the public’s trust in the police. I was one of the lucky ones, but way too many people continue to be beaten, falsely imprisoned and killed every year. Where the movement to overhaul policing will go is unknown, but I do know that it must lead somewhere far more just and equitable to black and Hispanic people who are so disproportionately affected by the status quo.

‘Sad that we can see what is in a video, but not what is right in front of our eyes.’

Jane Hufstedler, 75, Frederick: The police have been a source of comfort to me in situations where I felt threatened. The police have also been a very scary threat when family members with mental health issues needed support and justice. Police were either ill-equipped or devoid of empathy to be able to provide help. We should form a national team of law-enforcement and health professionals to study current needs and find solutions. I am not an advocate of disbanding/defunding the police. I do advocate for removing them from situations where they are ill-equipped to serve.

Marla Caldwell, 49, Snellville, Ga.: I believe most of us want police to solve crimes and prevent them when possible while respecting civil rights, not act as judge, jury and executioner to black, Hispanic and Native people, or to people who are disabled, intoxicated or in crisis. We need to reinvent our approach to managing social ills and disturbances, so that social workers, medical professionals, education professionals and others with relevant training and experience are dispatched to respond to situations for which they’re better suited than police. We also need to overhaul police culture to reward those who identify problems and solutions, ensure de-escalation is always the first response and hold police accountable for their actions. Those with more training, more power and more resources should be held to higher standards than the public, not lower. We have an opportunity now to get it right, and it’s essential that we let go of attachment to how we’ve done it in the past so that we can imagine and build a better way forward.

Chris Moore, 51, Cumberland, Md.: I hope we can end the broken system that incentivizes arrest, prosecution and incarceration. Over-criminalization, over-policing and over-prosecution are the symptoms, but the cause is that we have highly incentivized police, district attorneys, courts and prisons to create more prisoners and second-class citizens — not less. Law enforcement and courts have gradually been retooled to punish and extract maximum value from all citizens rather than the most dangerous. It has become a perverse hospitality industry seeking to increase the occupancy rate. Like health care, which for years incentivized sickness, law enforcement needs to seriously rethink the current system of financial rewards and desired outcomes. Also, like health care, nearly every aspect is broken, but we lack the political will to acknowledge, let alone fix, the problems. But perhaps now, at least for a time, we can see law enforcement through the eyes of minorities and the poor. Sad that we can see what is in a video, but not what is right in front of our eyes.

Read more:

What changes do you hope will come out of protests and debates about police and race? Write to The Post.

The Post’s View: In Tucson, another man of color ends up dead in police custody

Robert Williams: I was wrongfully arrested because of facial recognition. Why are police allowed to use it?

Karen Tumulty: How George Floyd speaks to the shame of our history and the promise of our future

Christy E. Lopez: George Floyd’s death could have been prevented if we had a police culture of intervention

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