‘No one was doing anything’ - High school, college students discuss impact of George Floyd’s death on Black men
George Floyd's death continues to act as a motivating force for improvement between law enforcement and minority communities - with one group directly impacted - Black men.
News 12’s Ty Milburn sat down with a group of young Black men from Peekskill one year after the death of Floyd.
The group consists of high schoolers and college students who call themselves the "Black Diamonds" because being a high achiever is part of the criteria for joining this elite Peekskill-headquartered organization.
The group includes Malachi McDonald, Zamir Travis, Zion Sanchez, Kendal Cousins, Elijah Ritter, Kyle Cousins, Zachary Alan and Justin Smithson.
For them, the horror of George Floyd's death wasn't just something they watched on television. It hit home.
"I was sad for a long time," says Smithson. "To see something like that in public in front of everyone, and no one was doing anything, it was sad."
That incident ignited worldwide protests against police brutality and in support of Black lives.
The movement also demanded that Black people be treated fairly and equitably by law enforcement - like everyone else.
It's an issue that many of these young men know all too well.
News 12 asked them what they think police get wrong about young Black men.
"That we're thugs, that we might be involved in gangs, that we do drugs all the time- that we have nothing going for us in our future,” says Cousins.
"I have those moments where I felt like the way I dressed or the way I walked might cause alert to someone,” says Travis.
"I often get thought of as a banger because I'm tall, my braids, my clothes. I'm not like that,” says McDonald.
For Sanchez, the killing of Floyd not only made him reflect on how police may perceive him, it has also changed how he moves about the world.
"As a Black teenager, you have to walk around, as Justin says - more mannered. You have to walk around straight back. I can't walk how I want to walk. I can't dress the way I want to dress. I have to make the cop look at me like a regular human being," he says.
Being comfortable in their Black skin is something Martin McDonald, the president of the Diamonds, is always offering lessons on, but he insists, it's hard.
"We just want to be like everyone else. It's tough. It's a heavy load to have that hanging over you. Police can go home and take off their uniform. We can't take off our skin," he says.
The Black Diamonds believe that for things to improve, police need more training, more empathy - and most importantly, they need to spend more time getting to know the communities they serve.
"We should be demanding the ability to feel safe leaving your house," says Travis.
"If people from your community are policing there's already a connection, that camaraderie. Just having a relationship with the people who are supposed to protect you deepens the connection," says Ritter.
While they don't believe these things alone will solve all problems, they admit it's a start and a step in the right direction.
"We've had changes over the past year, but I feel like the changes are so small. They could've done without someone having to die before they did," says Travis.
"A lot of people are expecting it to be done overnight, but it takes some time, work. Some time and progress to get to the end goal," says McDonald.