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Relief, Not Joy: Idaho Black History Museum Director Reacts To George Floyd Verdict

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As the country reacts to the guilty verdicts of former police officer, Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Boise State Public Radio's George Prentice talks to Phillip Thompson, executive director at the Idaho Black History Museum about the conviction.

Read the transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: Let me ask you right up top: your reaction to the verdicts.

PHILLIP THOMPSON: I mean, as terrible as it sounds, I'm not overly shocked. But at
the same time, I cannot say that I have any sense of being overjoyed, other than being
relieved. That’s part of the reason why the verdict was as it was, simply because these
acts were perpetrated and recorded and disseminated to such a degree that you
couldn't really argue with the outcome. That should have been a foregone conclusion
that this was a guilty verdict. But the fact that we had any concern that it wouldn't be, in
a city prepped for the violence that may ensue thereafter, let you know how much of a
nadir we are in as far as American history.

PRENTICE: It's interesting that you brought that up: What a critical moment we are with
personal technology… and how it was the center of this case, and probably the number
one reason for such a swift verdict.

THOMPSON: Blessed be the smart phone. Because let's be honest, statistically
speaking, a lot hasn't changed in regards to violence committed by police. And I'm not
indicting all police when I say that. But this has been a problem for decades that
especially the black community has tried to communicate to the masses to make them
aware of what we're dealing with. And it has time and time again been torn asunder, or
that it can't be that bad, or is not actually happening. And if it had not been for the
invention of the smartphone and each and every person being equipped with the ability
to record and disseminate information on a global scale, I don't believe we would even
be having this conversation about, hey, we need police reform or there are police
departments that are doing things right, such as Boise Police. How do we mimic that?
How do we duplicate that? Why is justice there different from justice here? We wouldn't
even be having these conversations had this not been captured on film, time and time
and time and time again. And so, it's only with a reluctancy that they were even having
this conversation because people were more than comfortable with ignoring the fact that the blacks in America have pleaded for this to be addressed and the fact that we once again had uncertainty in regards to a case where a man kneeled on another man's chest for nine minutes and there was some uncertainty, whether or not a crime wascommitted. That’s what we're dealing with,

PRENTICE: Let's talk about having a safe place - a safe place for protest, to express
grief… or relief… or anything in between. Can you talk a little bit about the importance
of having a safe place here in Boise and across the nation to do just that?

THOMPSON: As much as it's important to use this moment hopefully as a pivot, maybe
we are opening something new as far as justice will be, something that is going to be
doled out henceforth on, this wasn't a case of justice. A man lost his life without reason.
I don't know that there is such a place currently. I mean, where such as such a position
that everybody is looking for. When you do try to protest together, there's a counter
protest to protest the protest. If you're trying to hold a sacred or a solemn moment
saying that, “Hey, we want to give his family blessings and gather for them,” then those
who say, “Oh, you're vilifying the police wrongfully, we're here to protest or protest
because we want to support a police.”, Everything's become like a lightning rod. I'm
always a little apprehensive to say getting together will somehow make things better or
allow those to heal outside of doing so with your own family, your own people, because
there's those who are coming secret to so dissent and cause harm to those who are
taking this moment as mom to say, hey, maybe things are changing. So I don't know
that we are at that moment because everyone's looking for an issue, a time to make the
issue their issue and exploit it for their own benefit.

PRENTICE: So interesting you said that because here we are at a time when so many
people are expressing things globally…. but what you just shared is that this instantly
becomes a very personal moment.

THOMPSON: Exactly. Again, there is no justice to be served, but we have to call into
question whether or not it's OK to take a man's life … a black man's life… by those who
are sworn to protect by kneeling on his chest when he is subdued and no longer a
threat. Or a use-of-force guidelines that was not necessary, the threat was neutralized,
but we had to go to court and there are still some question to whether or not that was an act that was done wrongly, lets you know how bad this is. And it took 10 hours to
remedy or to decide that a police officer should not kneel on a man's chest until he
suffocates him.

PRENTICE: Philip Thompson is the executive director of the Idaho Black History
Museum. Philip, it's always time well-spent when we get an opportunity to share a few
moments with you. Thanks so very much and have a good rest of your day.

THOMPSON: And you sir, thank you much for having me.