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Letter from President Paxson: Justice for George Floyd; our work continues

Following the conviction of Derek Chauvin, Brown President Christina H. Paxson wrote to the community about the justice many have hoped for since the murder of George Floyd and the need for continued action to confront anti-Black racism.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — After approximately 10 hours of deliberation, a panel of jurors on April 20 returned guilty verdicts on three counts in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd. In the wake of the verdict, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson wrote to the Brown community about the justice so many have hoped for since the murder in May 2020 and the need for continued resolve to effect real and meaningful change.

The full text of the letter follows.

Justice for George Floyd; Our work continues

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

Earlier today, the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty on counts of murder and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd. The jury deliberated for just over 10 hours to deliver the justice that so many in our community have hoped for since the murder almost a year ago.

While this cannot begin to account for the profound pain and loss caused by the killing of George Floyd, I can only imagine the relief felt today by the Floyd family, the people of Minnesota, and those who stepped forward with courage to testify to what they witnessed on that tragic day of George Floyd’s death.

For many in our community, this decision releases anxiety and fear for what this trial might say about the value of Black life in our country. The world saw a video of 9 minutes and 29 seconds of Derek Chauvin’s knee stealing George Floyd’s life, and yet so many who have lived these moments before — in past trials that acquitted perpetrators of anti-Black violence — still questioned whether a jury would acquit a former police officer of this horrific crime.

I join those who are experiencing this moment with a sense of deep, overwhelming relief. I feel cautious optimism for the seeds of lasting change, but with an eye toward the hard work that must continue to combat systemic racism, inequity, brutality and violence that exists in society.

Tomorrow we will hold a gathering for Brown students, faculty and staff to be together in empathy and mutual respect for the range of deep emotions that our community is feeling. The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life will host the gathering at 11 a.m. at the Faunce steps on the College Green, observing public health protocols (anyone participating in-person in any on-campus event must be in Brown’s COVID-19 testing program).

I also invite the Brown community to participate later in a teach-in within the next week where faculty will reflect on the impact of George Floyd’s murder and the broader issues of policing, race and social justice. The growing list of programming appears at the bottom of this message, along with support resources for students, staff and faculty.

While the trial is over, we know that Black and brown people continue to live in fear of racism and violence, including from the structures in place that are expected to protect our communities, ensure safety and secure justice. By some news accounts, an average of more than three people per day have died in killings by law enforcement in this country since testimony started for the Derek Chauvin trial on March 29. More than half of those killed have been Black and Latinx. And even as the jury was deliberating in the Chauvin trial, protests and rallies have continued across the country over the police shootings of Daunte Wright near Minneapolis during a fatal traffic stop and 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago. This comes as we also see a rise in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes.

Our work continues

We know that this verdict cannot close a chapter on a horrific legacy of anti-Black racism and anti-Black violence. While a cell phone video turned the eyes of a nation and the world to examine and confront the realities of systematic and structural racism over the past year, we must also confront the fact that these are realities that Black and brown people  have lived with for centuries and continue to live with every day. In large cities and small communities, families still fear racism and violence while visiting coffee shops, bird watching at the park, going to the store, taking walks down their local streets, driving to see friends and even in the expected safety of their homes.

As a community, we have explored actively and rigorously the many ways racism permeates daily life for so many in our country. As I shared in my letter to the community yesterday, we will continue the work we have done over the past year — confronting not only racism in policing and the criminal justice system, but also in areas that include racial inequities in medicine and disparities in public health; the need for bystander intervention when it comes to racism and racial bias; and the role of race in democracy and social movements.

The Task Force on Anti-Black Racism will offer recommendations heading into the summer that our community will engage with as the new academic year begins next fall. The search for a new vice president for campus safety will extend conversations about the role of the Department of Public Safety in the safety and security of our campus, and a new grant program was announced earlier this week to bring together students from across the University to create innovative solutions that address anti-Black and systemic racism.

Our community has been committed to actively engaging with these issues with persistence and resolve. It’s critically important that the end of this trial does not mean the end of the work we need to do as an institution and a society to effect real and meaningful change.

Sincerely,

Christina H. Paxson
President

EVENTS AND PROGRAMMING

A Gathering in Community (Brown students, staff and faculty only)
The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life will host a campus community gathering to allow students, staff and faculty an opportunity to reflect on issues of equity and justice (anyone participating in-person in any on-campus event must be in Brown’s COVID-19 testing program, and mask-wearing and social distancing will be observed). [Editor's Note: time, place and location details removed because the event is limited to Brown community only.]

Race & Anti-Black Racism in America
Wednesday, April 21, 2021, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

This is the last panel discussion in a webinar series spanning the 2020-21 academic year drawing on the expertise of Brown scholars to investigate the origins, history and enduring contemporary effects of racism in America from a range of fields and scholarly perspectives. This panel features Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Malik Boykin, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Ainsley LeSure, and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and Chancellor’s Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose, moderated by Provost Richard M. Locke.

CSREA Teach-in
Date to be shared later this week

The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America will hold a teach-in, where faculty will reflect on the impact of George Floyd’s death and the broader issues of policing, race and social justice.

Racial Reckonings and the Future of the Humanities
Wednesday, April 28, 2021, 3 p.m., to Thursday, April 29, 2021, 7 p.m.

This inaugural conference of the Centering Race Consortium (CRC) examines to what extent, and how might a racial reckoning via new work in arts and humanities be imagined. The two-day conference is a collaboration funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation between CSREA and other academic centers studying race and ethnicity at Stanford, the University of Chicago and Yale.

The Future of Policing in America: A Third Rail Conversation with Connie Rice
Wednesday, May 5, 2021, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Moderated by CSREA Director Tricia Rose, this Third Rail dialogue tackles the complex, urgent and difficult subject of racism and policing. Connie Rice is a lawyer, activist and co-founder of the Advancement Project. She has worked extensively to improve and transform policing in Los Angeles and is a former member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

COVID-19 Safety Policies Regarding Rallies, Demonstrations and Events

  • All COVID-19 safety policies, health protocols and guidelines for activities remain in effect, including standards for social distancing, mask wearing, and limiting gathering sizes and in-person events. Please consult the Campus Activity Status page on for current safeguards, as well as the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy.
  • Consistent with the travel policies currently in effect, travel outside of Rhode Island to engage in rallies or related activity cannot be endorsed.
  • While personal and individual advocacy is actively encouraged, University resources — including websites and social media — cannot be used to make political statements or otherwise engage in partisan activity (in accordance with policies governing political activities for nonprofit organizations).
  • Academic decisions regarding cancelling classes can only be made by the academic deans, the provost and/or the faculty (as a body or through the Faculty Executive Committee).
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