A Year After Floyd's Murder, Cape Region Reflects on How We've Changed, and the Work Ahead
Today marks one year since the police murder of George Floyd, which sparked protests around the world and spurred a new wave of activism.
To reflect on the past year, CAI talked with people in our region about how Floyd’s death touched their lives and prompted action.
Robert Cutts grew up in Harwich and returned to the Cape to retire.
When he worked as a deputy sheriff in Virginia, he went public with complaints of racism in his own department, but he still believes most police officers want to do the right thing.
So when he saw the video of Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck, a lot was going through his mind — like how hard it is for a rookie to question a veteran officer.
“Because I know there's only 1 or 2 percent of the bad cops,” he said. “When I saw George Floyd, it’s — to actually watch a man die, you know, for nine minutes — and you're looking at the officers and you're saying, ‘Wow, you know, you guys, you need to do something.’”
Within a few months of Floyd’s murder, a noose was found hanging in a tree in Yarmouth, and white supremacist flyers were discovered in at least two Cape communities.
Cutts says he’s heard people on the Cape say everything is fine here, but he says that’s a mistake, and there’s more work to be done.
“Ask the police department for their standard operation procedure, to read it, and see the dates on it,” he said. Look at the last time it was updated, he said, because many are old.
“And that protects the officers,” he said. “So if something does happen, they're going to say, ‘Well, our policy says he can do this.’”
The Barnstable Police Department has a designated civil rights officer, Brian Morrison. He’s also the community liaison.
He says young people tell him, from what they see on television, they’re scared.
“They tell us … ‘We're scared when we get pulled over, because we don't know what's going to happen,’” he said. “And, you know, personally, I get it. I understand that. But … that's not going to happen with Barnstable PD.”
Morrison says he felt like Floyd’s treatment at the hands of a uniformed officer set community trust back 20 years.
“It sent shockwaves throughout the nation,” he said. “And it even reached little Cape Cod here, and it woke a lot of people up.”
That awakening has given birth to new anti-racism work — the kind that doesn’t just react to incidents, but also seeks to dismantle unconscious bias and show support for people of color.
The state passed a police reform bill, though it has critics on both sides.
Three local towns — Nantucket, Falmouth, and Provincetown — have hired or are hiring someone to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Donna Walker was among the advocates for that position in Provincetown.
“We thought this is an opportunity, for a town that claims to be open and welcoming to all, to have a look at some of the underbelly of what it takes to walk through our town, be a part of it, access resources, access housing,” she said.
Around the region, social action groups have been created in response to Floyd’s murder.
One, called Amplify POC, promotes businesses owned by people of color, aiming to reduce the wealth gap enforced by systemic racism.
Another group, Cape Cod Voices, is working to help teachers on the Cape to better understand students of color.
Barnstable history teacher Krissie Williams says after Floyd’s murder, the district intensified efforts to revise the curriculum and make sure school library books reflect diverse authors and characters.
“Obviously, when that happened, you know, it kind of threw everything into overdrive,” she said.
Also this year, Barnstable dropped its Native American school mascot.
Outside of school, Williams founded the Barnstable Ally Group.
“I'm African-American, and I had a number of my white friends and colleagues that were contacting me after it happened,” she said. “A lot of them said, you know, what can we do? You know, we want to be the change.”
The ally group sponsors a monthly online event, called Difficult Conversations, centered on a book or movie.
They also collected hundreds of books by and about people of color for Barnstable school children.
As the world reflects on this anniversary, no amount of activism can give life back to George Floyd.
But Williams says his case will make a lasting change.
“We had been telling white America this for years, and it was kind of like nobody really believed it,” she said. “And with George Floyd, it was like, there was the evidence right there. And people were very shocked. … It really made them question what it's like to be Black in America, what it's like to be a person of color in America.”
And it made people ask the next question: What should each of us do?