San Diego leaders and social justice-focused organizations commemorated the life and death of George Floyd -- a Black man murdered by a police officer on this date in Minneapolis last year -- at a vigil outside the county administration building Tuesday.
The People's Association of Justice Advocates (PAJA) -- a San Diego-based civil rights-focused nonprofit -- hosted Gary Jones, Floyd's cousin, for the commemoration event. Jones, a Navy culinary specialist, watched the murder and protests unfold while aboard his ship stationed in Guam. He is now based in San Diego.
Jones spoke at the vigil, and afterward told NBC 7 that good can come from the tragedy of losing his cousin.
"To make a change, to make a difference in this world, to shine a light on what's going on down here on earth," Jones said. "Everybody needs to be kind to each other and follow rules and be held accountable for their actions."
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The County Administration building and structures in Balboa Park were lit up in blue and green in remembrance of Floyd one year after his death.
"I'm pretty emotional right now. This was so beautiful because we got to come together and grieve," supporter Evelyn Diaz Cruz said. "He's created a movement worldwide -- his death does that -- and that's what we cannot forget and we have to come out,"
Organizers of the vigil used the moment to reflect on Floyd's death and its aftermath, from nationwide rallies in support of racial equality to Derek Chauvin's trial and murder conviction. They also pushed for long sought after police reform measures.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, which has already passed by the House, is aimed at combatting racial bias in policing as well as excessive force and police misconduct.
"It's going to create a registry of bad police. They can't go from San Diego to Dallas or to somewhere else and continue to police," Rev. Shane Harris with the PAJA said. "It will create this registry where they'll be tracked. That's important because it's a part of getting the next Derek Chauvin."
Floyd's killing sparked months of civil unrest as millions of Americans around the nation took to the streets to call for accountability and the dismantling of systemic racism. The impact of Floyd's murder was felt in San Diego County as well, with protests in nearly every community that sometimes became violent.
The event will include guest speakers, a candlelight vigil and the group taking a knee at sunset for nine minutes and 29 seconds -- the time frame representative of the same period Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck, killing him. The county administration building also will be lit at sunset.
An afternoon vigil was held outside of the Hall of Justice.
The sentiment was reflective, but participants made sure to emphasize calls for police reform and further social justice measures groups have been calling for before and after Floyd's killing.
Organizers there also led a 9-minute, 29-second kneeling moment of silence.
"One person rising up and saying it's got to stop, or one person being lynched in front of the whole world, has brought the world's attention on this issue but we can't let it go. It was one year ago today, but the murders continue whether you're Black or Brown, people dying crossing the border, the abuse by law enforcement has got to stop," Enrique Morones said.
San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe expressed hope
that some accountability was taken and people joined a mass movement to fight injustice.
“What unfolded over the days, weeks, and months following Floyd's horrific murder felt different. All across the country we saw people take to the streets in protests. Marches were held in every single state in the nation,” she said. “And we were not alone. Across the globe millions of people came out in solidarity with us. They demanded justice for George Floyd. They proclaimed loudly that Black Lives Matter.”
“Some changes happened,” she continued. “The choke hold was banned. Statues were removed. Flags and names were changed. Companies updated leadership. Our voices mattered.”
Despite the changes, Montgomery Steppe said the fight is far from over.
“Justice would mean George Floyd was alive today. Justice would mean we didn't need trending hashtags and social media movements to be valued as human beings. Justice would mean the entire world would not have to stand with us for the smallest amount of action,” she said. “Because from day one our community has been crushed under the weight of white supremacy. Our work is not done. And I will be here fighting right beside you until it is. Until Black lives unequivocally matter in this country.”
Mayor Todd Gloria -- who was an Assemblyman in the summer of 2020 when
unrest was its highest -- echoed Montgomery Steppe's sentiments regarding
Floyd's murder and the spotlight it placed on injustice.
“George Floyd should be alive today. There is no question that his tragic death placed a spotlight on systemic racism and injustices, and spurred millions of Americans to stand up and demand change,” Gloria said. “I am committed to continuing the necessary work to ensure we enact change here in San Diego and that all of our residents are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve."
At Gloria's request, Balboa Park will be illuminated for the night in blue and green to commemorate Floyd's life.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, took to Twitter to make a comment.
“One year ago, a teenager with a cell phone captured the senseless murder of a Black man as a police officer knelt on his neck,” Peters wrote. “George Floyd should be alive today. This tragic anniversary is an urgent reminder that we must bring more transparency and accountability to policing.”
Along with protests, a call for defunding the police arose last year, overwhelming a City Council meeting with hundreds of public comments as that body discussed the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Budget. The council ultimately voted to increase police spending. In this year's budget, Gloria has proposed increasing police funding by $19 million.
He also unveiled 11 public safety priorities and proposed police reforms designed to improve relationships between law enforcement and the public in his proposed budget. Some of the reforms include exploring alternatives to arrest for low-level offenses, strengthening “implicit bias” training for all officers, and increasing funding to the independent Commission on Police Practices.