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Throughout 2020, The News-Gazette published first-person essays from

42 African American community members in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Among them: Champaign County NAACP Branch President MINNIE PEARSON

, who shared her thoughts following Tuesday’s conviction of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.

Tuesday was a first step — finally, as people all over the United States thought, we are getting some justice.

But the work is far from finished. We all still have to do better at working on and speaking out against systemic racism. We need to abolish the culture of bad policing. We need police reform to move forward in order to save the lives of Black and Brown people in this country.

Yes, we all took a deep breath Tuesday for George Floyd and his family. We even celebrated after the verdict somewhat, because a bad police officer was finally being held accountable for the use of force and taking the life of an unarmed Black man.

What Black people have always wanted is for bad police officers to stop killing unarmed Black people. When this happens, then — and only then — will we as a people feel we have equal justice under the law.

We must have laws that send a strong message that the mistreatment and killing of unarmed Black people by bad police officers will no longer be tolerated or go unpunished.

After the world witnessed the tragic death of George Floyd a year ago in daylight — captured on video by a smart, compassionate young bystander — the courts knew that the time to act is now.

They finally acknowledged what Black and Brown people have been telling them for decades — that police officers sworn to protect and serve do not always protect and serve our communities very fairly.

As many of us have learned, when change does come, it always seems as if it comes too late. We cannot get our loved ones back. As a country, restructuring police use-of-force policies and training will help create safer police practices, which should ultimately help save lives moving forward.

Increasing de-escalation training techniques with cultural education and equity training needs to be addressed, especially stressing the value that all human life matters. We also need to transform and enforce standardized police policies, which will help to improve relationships and build trust between our communities and the police.

Every local, state and national elected leader in the United States — and every person in every city or town in this country — must keep on peacefully protesting, marching, voting and working together as we move forward to make sure that the culture of policing is reformed and that all officers are held accountable for their actions.

Every police officer needs to respect the sanctity of all life. Let’s all take a deep breath, because we still have a lot of work to do in the fight for equal justice under the law.

We are not there yet.

Minnie Pearson is president of the NAACP Champaign County Branch.

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