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Statements on the death of George Floyd from Douglas County Commissioners

Thursday, June 4, 2020 - 5:25pm

Earlier this week we witnessed another horrific act of racism. Believing that our Board of Douglas County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday night (June 3) would be an appropriate place to say a few words addressing this tragedy, I had planned to speak then. A few people for whom I have tremendous respect encouraged me not to wait, but to speak up now. To them, thank you. Your encouragement helps me to see that my privilege gives me the choice to wait. Waiting is something not afforded to the vulnerable, including those who live in fear due to the color of their skin. Here are my comments:

What we witnessed earlier this week - the murder of George Floyd - is unacceptable. It is unfathomable. And yet, I expect that my feelings pale in comparison to the feelings of people of color. I hear you, and I want to do more. Every time this happens, and it seems it happens more and more, it is a reminder that the work towards racial equity has a desperately long way to go. That frustrates me. It angers me. Our path to racial equity is fraught with frustration and disbelief at the stupidity, the weakness, and the complacency of humankind. However, that cannot divert our resolve.

Racism is systemic. It is a learned behavior that must be confronted. We all must shine a light on racism when we see it, even in ourselves. Today, that light burns bright - on social media, on the news, and in our conversations. I hope that in a week, in a month, or even six months from now that what we are feeling will not fade, and that we shine that light just as brightly as we do today. That is my commitment and I encourage you to join me.

As an educator and as a community leader I recognize that I have a role to play in not only helping our community try to make sense of this tragedy, but also putting forward a vision of hope and justice. It is a daunting task, but I will not back down; I will not give in to anger and frustration. If you are afraid, know that I will stand with you. We can’t give in to fear. We all must stand together and continue to fight for racial equity. I’m with you, and we will do better.

— Chair Patrick Kelly

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Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words. I have always preferred action over words. But at this time words AND action are necessary.

I struggle to find the words to adequately express the sadness, disgust and anger I feel in regards to the murder of George Floyd, I can say I am appalled by and condemn the actions of the officers involved (including any superior officers who may have had knowledge of past disciplinary problems involving any of the officers).

I can't comprehend that I am watching a man gasp for the final breaths of his life while someone, who is sworn to serve and protect, is kneeling on his neck, taking his life.

I can't imagine how terrifying the final moments of his life were as he struggled for breath and called out for his mother. I can't imagine the agony of his family watching this video.

I am horrified by the actions of that police officer and his three accomplices.

As a commissioner and as a community member, I am proud of the men and women serving our community. But I will continue to ask tough questions and work with our local law enforcement on training, education and anything and everything possible to prevent violence and racism in our community.

— Vice Chair Michelle Derusseau

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I got an email this morning (May 30) from Nicole Rials (she gave me permission to use her name). Nicole is a licensed specialist in social work, a faith leader who’s well known in our community, and someone I’ve worked with quite a lot through the county’s behavioral health initiatives. Nicole’s letter started with a quote from The Obama Foundation:

“Racism has not stood still. Bigotry has not stood still. The fatal disparity that people of color face — whether at the hands of law enforcement or the whims of our health care system — has not stood still.”

Rightly framed by those powerful words, Nicole asked why leaders in our community — including me — have not spoken out publicly with a response to the racism and brutality of the events in Minneapolis with all its follow-on anger, unrest and despair. She pointed out that other leaders in other communities around the nation have. Nicole’s letter was really gracious but also convicting. And she’s right. It’s not enough to watch the news and cry. Or watch the news and curse. Or watch the news and turn it off in exhaustion and shame (all of which I’ve done). As a leader in our community it’s not enough for me to be angry inwardly, be ashamed inwardly, be afraid inwardly, be hurt inwardly and not finally speak up outwardly as our community looks for leadership in these doubly troubled times.

So here’s what I have to say: I hate what happened to George Floyd, a black man killed at the hands of police. And I hate that this is not a singular event, but one that has been repeated in America so many times not just to black men, but to black women and black children in ancient and recent times alike. I hate that it seems impossible to find the right words right now because they’re important, but it feels like they’ve all been said before. So many pious words. But while I keep searching for what to say and what to do to help lead my community in the weeks and months ahead, here is what I can and will do right now. I will not ask the black community and my black friends to teach me, agree with me, console me or even care very much about me right now. That is not their work to do. I’ve learned that, at least. I will double down on my own effort to listen and learn, do the hard work of acknowleging, owning and fighting racism both inwardly and outwardly, and I will come to work every day with humility, knowing that I have a long way to go on all these fronts. I know that’s not all there is to say, but it’s a start.

Thank you, Nicole, for the challenge of your letter. You’re right. And I apologize. Now is not the time for silence.

— Commissioner Nancy Thellman

 

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