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Justice Prevails in the Death of George Perry Floyd, Jr.

A Message from Dean Gary L. Bowen

This afternoon (April 20, 2021), a jury in Minnesota found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The verdict means that Chauvin will be held responsible for the death of George Perry Floyd, Jr. (pictured above), the 46-year-old Black man who was killed on May 25, 2020.

We have all seen the video — Chauvin presses his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly ten minutes, while Floyd lies handcuffed and helpless on the street, clearly struggling to breathe. Onlookers call for Chauvin to stop, but he does not stop. The evidence is irrefutable that Chauvin is responsible for Floyd’s death — a betrayal of his oath as a police officer to uphold the law and to protect and serve. In a just world, this murder would have never happened; the verdict today is one step towards accountability.

But in communities where racism and police brutality have taken hold, we know that justice does not always prevail. Our law enforcement system does not necessarily protect the rights, property, and lives of Black people. Police officers charged with crimes against Black people are often acquitted, if in fact they are charged or indicted at all.

We also know that Floyd’s death is not an isolated incident. Earlier this year, an analysis by The Washington Post found that unarmed Blacks are five times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers than are unarmed Whites in the United States. This ratio has remained consistent over the past five years — despite the bright spotlight of the media; despite protests and public opinion; despite body cams, dash cams, independent investigations and other tools that are intended to keep law enforcement accountable.

And the trauma of these deaths is amplified again and again as we replay these scenes of violence, experience the blaming of victims in our courts, and fail to hold accountable those who are responsible.

This must end.

Time after time, we have joined as a community in an attempt to process the senseless deaths, violence, and persecution that are the scourge of social injustice. We have felt rage, frustration, and hopelessness. We have fought internal battles against those feelings, knowing that they are not conducive to helping us realize our goals of social justice and equality.

All of us are tired, exhausted, drained of faith and full of doubt, and these realities and emotions have affected and unduly burdened the Black community — including our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends — to an extent that white colleagues cannot begin to imagine.

This must end.

We have marched in the streets of our nation and participated in protests on this campus. We have voted for candidates who shared our values. We have voiced our hopes and fears through writing and arts and other forms of expression. We have lifted up the names of those we have lost. We have posted statements on the School’s website, held town hall meetings, and met as a community. We have called, again and again, for the reforms that are so needed and seem so obvious.

And yet, despite all of our intentions and our work and our commitment, change has been challenging and slow, even in our own School.

This must end.

In the midst of our frustration and anger, we must also feel compassion for our community. And that compassion must translate into action.

As social workers, we are uniquely prepared to translate compassion into action and to work towards the change we want to see in the world.

We can and will do better.

Our compassion begins with our Black colleagues. We must stand with them. We must ensure that our School and our campus are places where they feel respected, supported, and safe.

We can and will do better.

And this work extends to our broader communities across the state and throughout the world. We believe that everyone should have the same opportunities to live, work, and raise their families in peace and prosperity. We believe that everyone deserves access to education, to health care, and to a safe environment. We believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Social workers must amplify their voices and align their actions with their beliefs to confront policies and practices that disproportionately harm people and communities of color.

We can and will do better.

In the months ahead, our School will continue our work to reimagine justice and address disparities in the criminal justice system. We will advocate for a greater social work presence within the public safety community, including ways that our School of Social Work can expand our interface and consultation with the local law enforcement agencies.

We will support mental health services, helping to address the trauma that so many of our friends and neighbors have experienced as a result of social injustice.

We will also lead efforts to change mindsets, which is the biggest challenge of all. Our nation has experienced deep rifts that cannot be easily patched and searing pain that cannot be easily soothed. Racism is part of our nation’s structure and fabric, and our work to eradicate racism will require full commitment from each of us. Please join me in this commitment — as social workers, as leaders, as individuals who care.

We serve with compassion. We lead with action. We work to ensure change. Our mission calls for us to advance equity, transform systems, and improve lives — this is our duty; this is our responsibility.

I will be working with Dr. Travis Albritton, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Dr. Lisa Zerden, Senior Associate Dean for MSW Education; Dr. Mimi Chapman, Associate Dean for Doctoral Education; and members of the School’s Anti-Racism Committee (Drs. Trenette Goings, Gina Chowa, Michael Lambert, and Gary Cuddeback) to schedule virtual meetings with our community to discuss the verdict and its meaning and implications for our community, including time for reflection and mutual support.

Later this evening, the University will be releasing a campus message that will include a list of resources available to faculty, staff, and students to address this moment and what you may be needing as a member of the UNC community.  And, of course, please feel free to contact me directly if I can assist in any way.

In solidarity,