Famed civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci held a press conference late Tuesday night at the Chicago Union League Club, 65 West Jackson Blvd., where they talked about the impact of the George Floyd case and its effect on the current status of federal police reform, how Black women can’t get equal justice and after Floyd’s murder the work to get federal police reform is not over.
In telling the tragic story of Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds, Attorney Romanucci said it began with he and Crump on May 26, 2020 a day after the murder of Floyd. “We stand here to say he was murdered. Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and three police officers (J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Land and Tou Thao) were convicted of civil rights violations.”
He said the narrative of the Minneapolis police department claimed that Floyd died from a medical emergency, but when Romanucci looked at the video he was “stunned.” Having come from the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, Romanucci said, “If anybody understands what the PD’s office is in this County, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve been through a lot, and I understand a lot and I especially understand police lied narratives.”
Saying he was not there to condone police officers, he said he likes good, well-trained police officers. However, when he looked at the Floyd video, Romanucci said he wanted to ask Chauvin, whose name he did not know at that moment, one question, “Did you believe Mr. Floyd when he was telling you he can’t breathe?” He said, “There is no right answer to that. He can’t say yes. He can’t say no. He’s wrong.” When he received a call from Crump about this case, Romanucci was on the next flight to Minneapolis.
In showing a slide show to the audience, Romanucci said if it had a title, it would be, “The Chronicle of a Murder” almost in real time with Floyd begging, “Please let me breathe.” Crump turned to Romanucci and said, “Everybody on the street knew he was dying except the people who were supposed to be trained, professionals to understand about how to sustain life.”
Crump said during the Chauvin trial when a 9-year-old girl came to court to testify and said to the jury at first witnesses nicely asked him to take his knee off Floyd’s neck “and when he still wouldn’t do it, they had to push him off. They literally pushed Chauvin off of him. It was like he wasn’t going to get off.” Romanucci said the video is a minute-by-minute accounting of Floyd’s death. “The bystanders knew he was dying, but the police who were there to protect who were actually being paid money to preserve life were actually removing life. Chauvin knew what he was doing,” Romanucci said.
Referring to the first encounter of Floyd by the police who had a gun pointed to his forehead over allegations of trying to pass off a $20 counterfeit bill, Romanucci said the Minneapolis police department “needs a do over,” and “they were not good.” Crump said there is a common theme in police brutality cases. Crump said the police had a “mentality” problem because they could have given Floyd a written notice to appear. “They didn’t have to arrest him.”
“There seems to a mentality when it is a person of color… do the most. We often see a lot of our white brothers and sisters who do far more, and they always get the benefit of the doubt,” said Crump. “Why can’t any of our children get that kind of consideration?” Romanucci said in police terminology, it is called “police escalation…pointing a gun” at Floyd he says who did not have a weapon.
Crump said he’s been a civil rights lawyer about 25 years and that “I have been Black all my life.” If you are Black and move the wrong way, Crump said police often “shot first and ask questions later.” Referring to no-knock warrants like that in the Breonna Taylor case, Crump said 82 percent of the time they are for Black people. “They were not doing that to our white brothers and sisters. It’s the mentality” of the Minneapolis police department “that was so unjust to Black people.”
Romanucci added, “Not only was it their mentality, it was their custom, practice and policy.” Chauvin said it takes a lot of oxygen to talk. “That is medically false. What you don’t see around the side of the car are the other officers who are compressing Floyd’s lungs.” Referring to Chauvin putting his hands in his pocket as he kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, Romanucci said, “This is a tactical police move for him to place more weight on George’s neck in order to hold it in place. This is tactical, not casual.”
Crump later told the Chicago Crusader his message was clear that “we’re better than that video we saw that documented the murder of George Floyd, but it’s not enough to say that, we have to show that.” He also referred to the police-related shooting of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old certified emergency medical technician who was shot many times on March 13, 2020 by the Louisville, Kentucky police as they executed a no-knock warrant at her home. Crump said the warrant “was based on a lie” that drugs were delivered to her home.
Police reportedly shot 32 times striking Taylor six times. Police suspected drug trafficking was being run out of Taylor’s home. The police actions resulted in national protests including social media’s hashtag #SayHerName and the ultimate passing of an ordinance known as “Breonna’s Law.” No-knock warrants are now banned in Louisville, and the city agreed to pay Taylor’s family a historic $12 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Crump told the Chicago Crusader, “Often times Black women are technically marginalized when we talk about this police violence against them. They are not given the significance that we give to Black and brown brothers even.”
After a nearly two-and-a-half hour press conference where he and Crump showed slides of 46-year-old Floyd being publicly murdered by 44-year-old Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, Attorney Romanucci told the Chicago Crusader, said his message was, “The work (of achieving federal police reform) is never done, and it’s certainly not done here. We have to continue our work and get the message out that everybody in this audience and beyond, the community. Has to continue its work.”
Asked how can a federal police reform law be achieved, Attorney Romanucci said, “We have to keep demanding it because right now I don’t think America at this point cares right now because the message is gone. George Floyd is history. We’re going to need another George Floyd in order for it to happen, and I don’t want to see that happen. I want it to happen organically.”
During the press conference, Crump referred to a white corporate American’s shock at the resulting protests that went on after Floyd’s murder and his saying, “We’re the people who have to have a solution. We are the people who have to do something about this. We just can’t see this as a Black people problem. We got to see this as an American problem.” Crump said, “That really gave me hope. I do think that the only way we are going to solve this problem is together as Americans. This is an American problem. This sickness of racism won’t be solved by Black people but by all of us coming together and saying we’re better than this.”
Both Crump and Romanucci thought that a federal police reform bill would be passed after Floyd’s death. “We were naïve because America has not had federal police reform since President Johnson signed the legislation in the 1960’s…,” said Crump. Romanucci said, “Our work is not done, and we need to make changes. You need to make calls, vote….” Crump said six-months after Floyd’s death, there were 100 documented police brutality cases. “This is a national problem, and we need a national solution…. It’s exhausting to try and keep up with the hashtags,” Crump said.
Romanucci said it was the National Sheriff’s Association “that pretty much killed the George Floyd Police Reform bill in D.C. because of qualified immunity.” He said if they had not opposed this bill, it probably would have passed. “The Fraternal Order of Police and the Chiefs of Police Association were in favor of getting rid of qualified immunity because they knew that if they could gain ultimately trust in community policing that we would actually have better policing in this country.”
Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations” including excessive police force for money damages under federal law as granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the end of the press conference, Rev. Randall K. Blakey, executive pastor of the LaSalle Street Church who is the chairperson of the Union League Club’s Public Affairs Sub-Committee on Race Relations, said the message tonight was to “help people understand all of the things that go on and went on behind the scenes in this George Floyd trial and how what happened to George Floyd was brought to justice.”
Blakey, who also directed questions from a large audience comprised mostly of African American lawyers to Romanucci and Crump, introduced Enza Raniera, a member of the League’s sub-committee who along with Jennifer McGuffin, chief communications officer with the Romanucci and Blandon law firm, made it possible for the lawyers presentation at the League.
Blakey also announced that the League is holding a tribute to Mayor Harold Washington on Wednesday, April 13th, with a 5:30 p.m. reception and a 6 p.m. program. He said they will highlight the “Punch 9” documentary and some members of the Washington administration will be speaking, moderated by journalist Laura Washington who was a member of the late mayor’s Communication Department.