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Brooklynites React to Defacing of George Floyd Statue by White Nationalists and the Sentencing of Derek Chauvin

Zion DeCoteau with Amba Guerguerian Jun 30

Brooklynites woke up last Thursday to find a newly erected, 14-foot-tall bust of George Floyd had been defaced overnight by white nationalists.

The monument that debuted on Juneteenth at Flatbush Junction was symbolically marred. Floyd’s face was strewn with black spray paint. The inscription on the base of the statue — poetry from hip-hop artist Papoose and Terrence Floyd, the deceased’s brother — was marked out in black and tagged in white with “PATRIOTFRONT.US.”

Patriot Front is an extremist group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “white nationalist hate group that broke off from Vanguard America in the aftermath of the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, of August 12, 2017.”

“The symbolism of the statue itself and the defacing of it was a message to send to this community and to all communities,” said Sakia Fletcher, a Flatbush resident and grassroots organizer. 

“It really speaks of cowardliness because it happened in the middle of the night,” said Lindsay Eshelman of ConfrontART, a group that helped produce the statue. “We’re here cleaning up a mess that someone came here under the cover of darkness to do,” she said during Thursday’s aftermath.

Eshelmen says the NYPD told her that the vandalism occurred during a shift change when police were not on duty. She believes the white nationalists were surveying the area to find the right time to strike. Police released surveillance video of four suspects who can be seen walking along Glenwood Road and Flatbush Avenue shortly before and after the vandalism occurred. 

“Every day I’m learning, especially during this project, that we need more dialogue, and we need more open conversations about race and reform and systemic racism,” she said.  “This just goes to show that some people are not — not willing to have that conversation”. 

Edwin Raymond, a Democratic city council candidate for District 40, denounced the attacks, calling them “backwards.” 

“We’re at a time where people are not able to have intelligent discourse anymore when they disagree on things. Cancel culture’s big and it’s ripping this nation apart”, Raymond said.  “I’m a supporter of the dialectical method. You bring your facts, I bring mine. You have to be malleable. If someone’s facts are good and well supported empirically, you have to be willing to make adjustments and bring your own empirical facts.”

Another statue of Geroge Floyd in Newark, New Jersey was vandalized on the same night also with the pro-“patriot” stencil spray painted on the memorial. 

The following day, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison — with 199 days credit for time served — for the murder of George Floyd. It marked the first time in Minnesota history that a white police officer was sent to prison for killing a black person. 

Chauvin’s sentencing led We Are Floyd along with members of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and Flatbush City Councilwoman Farah Louis to gather in the scorching heat to rally at the monument on Friday.  

“I’m very displeased. It honestly brought a tear to my eye,” said LaCrown Johnson. “Twenty-two years is a slap on the wrist, smack in the face. It’s not okay,” she continued. 

Chauvin faced a maximum of 40 years in prison although Minnesota state guidelines suggest 12.5 years for a first time offender with no prior criminal history such as Chauvin. Judge Peter Cahill allowed the prosecution to seek a longer sentence due to the circumstances of his crime. Still, Johnson, along with a majority of supporters in the crowd weren’t satisfied. 

“I know that if I was standing there, just being a woman, a Black woman at that, I would have gotten 25 to life. So, the fact that he got a maximum sentence of 22 with a possible parole? What the hell is that?” she wondered.

Johnson says that the organization is giving the immediate Floyd family “space” to process the news, but she does know that they are not pleased with the outcome.

As for the defaced statue, she says the vandals unintentionally achieved the opposite effect.   

“They thought that they were breaking us down and ripping us apart? No honey, you brought us tighter.”

As planned pre-vandalism, the George Floyd statue is expected to be relocated Manhattan’s Union Square in the coming weeks.

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