NEWARK – From the looks of him, everything is just fine and dandy.
And that is what artist Stan Watts wants people to think upon gazing at a life-size, bronze statue of George Floyd that was unveiled this afternoon outside City Hall.
As Watts told a crowd of more than 100 dignitaries and onlookers, he portrayed Floyd “relaxing and chilling on a bench.”
Floyd was a large man and the statue reflects that. Floyd is positioned on one end of the bench, allowing room for people to sit next to him and to be photographed. Many did just that when the ceremonies ended.
Mayor Ras Baraka called the statue a “gift” to the city of Newark. It may not be a permanent feature of the City Hall landscape, but Baraka said it should be there for at least a year.
Floyd, of course, gained instant notoriety after he was killed in May, 2020 by a police officer in Minneapolis. One officer, Derek Chauvin, who was recorded on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck, has been convicted and is awaiting sentencing. Floyd’s death sparked marches, protests and at times disturbances nationwide throughout last summer.
Baraka acknowledged that over the years there have been many other victims of police misconduct in Newark and New Jersey.
But he said he thinks Floyd’s death will be different. The mayor remarked how the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Baraka said there are signs Floyd’s death is doing the same some 60 years later.
It’s true that legislation has passed in some locales to ban chokeholds. The House also passed a police reform bill, but it has stalled in the Senate.
Leon Pickney, a filmmaker instrumental in getting the Floyd statue created, said he was encouraged that last year’s protests included a racially diverse group of people.
Baraka called for the state Legislature to support a bill that would allow Newark and other municipalities to create civilian boards to review police action.
Larry Hamm, another speaker and a long-time civil rights activist, wasn’t all that optimistic, saying people have been fighting for civilian review of police for about 60 years.
But he summed up the day’s events this way:
“The fight for George Floyd is not over.”