SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four young children thrust a cell phone into his face as he got out of his car, demanding he watch a video of a black man pleading with a white police officer in Minnesota to take his knee off his neck so he could breathe.
Newsom’s 10-year old daughter Montana said it was wrong. Her brother Hunter, 8, said it was “worse than wrong,” because “bad people are supposed to be bad but good people are supposed to be good.” Their 4-year-old brother, Dutch, chimed in to say it wasn’t right because “police officers are good people.”
That’s when Brooklyn, 6, “completely broke down,” Newsom said, and ran away saying: “I can’t talk about all this.”
“That was before I even walked into the house,” Newsom recounted at the start of his briefing on the state’s response to the cornavirus Friday. “Four young kids, trying to come to grips with what millions of Americans are trying to come to grips with.”
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police this week has sparked protests in California and around the country as the nation again confronts racial injustice.
At UC Davis, Chancellor Gary May noted that “I can’t breathe,” were the last words uttered by Eric Garner as he was being murdered on Staten Island in 2014, and that “I can’t breathe,” were among the last words spoken by George Floyd as he suffered the same fate under hauntingly similar circumstances in Minneapolis on Monday evening.
“In 2014, I tried to explain the Garner incident to my daughters,” May said in a statement released on Friday. “Yesterday, I tried to explain the Floyd incident to myself. In both cases, I fell short. Murder captured on video defies explanation.
“Needless to say, these tragedies hit my family and me hard,” May stated. “I know it’s touched a deep nerve with many of you as well. You have reached out to express your support, concern, sadness and anger, and I appreciate it. To be honest, it’s been difficult for me to know how to address this because it is so personal.”
May recalled he lived in Georgia for nearly 30 years, where Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed.
“George Floyd could have been any African American man, including me,” he continued. “Beyond the constant barrage of fear of the negative consequences of birding while black, shopping while black, cooking out while black, exercising while black — it is just exhausting. And I’m tired.”
May said the events of the past week “also cause me to believe even more strongly, if that’s possible, in building an inclusive environment that recognizes and respects people of all backgrounds and experiences. I remain committed to that and hope you will do what you can to eliminate racism, sexism, and other negative influences on our progression as a nation.”
May said he hopes that higher education “can be that positive influence on lives beyond an education. Perhaps here we can create a way forward. Perhaps here we can breathe.”
On Friday, Newsom said his conversation with his children about Floyd’s death brought home “the privilege of my background,” including “the privilege my kids have in terms of their upbringing, the fact that they’re white.”
“I don’t have to raise my kids like my friends’ kids are raised and so many other millions of Americans’ kids are raised,” he said. “I know in the hearts of so many, there’s deep anger, there’s deep frustration, there’s deep fear. And I — I can attest to that. But only intellectually.”
California’s history is interwoven with racial injustice and violence, from riots in the 1870s in Los Angeles and San Francisco that saw Chinese immigrants murdered to the 1992 LA riots where dozens were killed and thousands arrested following the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King.
Two years ago Sacramento was roiled by protests over the fatal police shooting of a young black man. No officers were charged.
Last year, Newsom signed a law that was influenced by the Sacramento killing. It changing the standard for when police officers can use deadly force and when they can be prosecuted for abusing it. The new law is among the nation’s most comprehensive governing police use of force.
“Passing a law, you’re not solving problems. You’ve got to change the culture,” Newsom said Friday. “We’ve got to fundamentally change who we are and recognize what we’re capable of being.”
Newsom said change is needed beyond just the criminal justice system and includes public health. While blacks make up about 6.5% of the state’s population of 40 million, they have accounted for 10.1% of the state’s coronavirus deaths.
“We have to be more resolved now than ever to do more and be better as human beings, as parents, as leader in our own right and to model better behavior,” Newsom, his voice catching as he invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King, who he said reminded people “that we’re all bound together by a web of mutuality, that we’re all in this together.”
Newsom urged protesters this weekend to express themselves “thoughtfully and gently — but forcefully” so that “we, collectively, can not only hear your voice but we can resolve to do something with the lesson that we learn.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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