21:52 GMT15 May 2021
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    April 19 marked 32 years since five teenagers were wrongly convicted of attacking a female jogger in Manhattan’s Central Park. Sentenced between six and 13 years, the now “Exonerated 5” were cleared of their convictions in 2002 through the use of DNA evidence and an alleged confession from the true assailant.

    Four members of the “Exonerated 5” recently met with several congressional members, including US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), to discuss criminal justice and police reform in the form of new legislation outlined under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

    The meeting came a day after a Minnesota courtroom found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all three murder counts stemming from the in-custody May 2020 death of local resident George Floyd.

    Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Kevin Richardson, all black and Latino men from the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem, held a virtual conversation on Wednesday afternoon hosted by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). The discussion also featured Pelosi and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), who discussed possible changes to the criminal justice system.

    The congresswomen praised the men for their advocacy, referring to the current state of affairs around policing in the United States, asking for accountability and uniformity among laws centered around generating police reform.

    The lawmakers reiterated plans to push through the new policing bill, which calls for a ban on chokeholds, no-knock warrants in federal drug investigations, and an end to “qualified immunity,” which shields officers from lawsuits, and many other provisions.

    “It shouldn’t take the torture and murder of somebody for over nine minutes to bring about changes,” Bass argued during the conference, referencing the amount of time in which Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck despite pleas that he could not breathe.

    The George Floyd Act passed the US House in March, but still faces an uphill battle in the US Senate. While Santana and Salaam have both endorsed the bill, the pair are also pushing for reform to expand into the criminal justice system.

    “We need to come from a viewpoint of rehabilitation, not just punishment,” Santana said, referring to the US prison system. He highlighted the importance of investing in incarcerated persons, pinpointing a need for the reintroduction of educational programs and vocational training. 

    Salaam agreed, and added that there needed to be more support for the families of individuals currently serving time. 

    People march with signs on a street after the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, found guilty of the death of George Floyd, in New York City, New York, U.S., April 20, 2021
    © REUTERS / EDUARDO MUNOZ
    People march with signs on a street after the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, found guilty of the death of George Floyd, in New York City, New York, U.S., April 20, 2021

    “We need a transformative system that includes the kaleidoscope of the human kind,” Salaam said during the meeting, pushing the need for the George Floyd bill, but also emphasizing that it would not be enough. The remarks came amid an ongoing push to form programs to help reintroduce newly released inmates back into society and reduce recidivism rates.

    The meeting also called for implementing preventative measures, such as the establishment of a registry for bad policing behaviors among officers. In the wake of Floyd’s death, reports surfaced detailing that Chauvin had a long history of complaints filed against him before the fatal interaction.

    Alex Rias, senior director of Equitable Justice at the National Urban League, a historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization, also joined the Wednesday virtual meeting. Rias reiterated many of the plans for reform and pushed the importance of regaining the trust of the communities most-affected by the criminal justice system.

    Richardson remarked that the conviction against Chauvin was a step forward, but stated there is still a long way to go, especially in light of the recent police-involved shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. 

    The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is currently reviewing the fatal Tuesday shooting. 

    Chauvin’s sentencing is scheduled for June, and congressional Democrats are pushing for the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by the anniversary of Floyd’s death on May 25.

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    Tags:
    Derek Chauvin, George Floyd, Nancy Pelosi, US Congress, Harlem, criminal justice reform
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