By Loudoun County Commonealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj
On May 25, 2020, Iwitnessed the murder of George Floyd. For 8 mins and 46 seconds, America witnessed the murder of George Floyd. I extend my most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd. And to every African American person who fears that George Floyd could be them, their son, their father, their brother, their friend, I am sorry.
Yesterday was another challenging day for our nation and our communities. For me, my day started with a prayer. I needed to shore up my faith because it was severally challenged. With prayer, came tears. However, the tears could not wash away what I saw on May 25 and many times thereafter. Then came the screams. The need to yell away the pain and heartache was strong – but I was not successful. Believe you me, I tried. So, my anger intensified. So, I did what many of us are doing, I looked for action. I need action. Without action, I feel powerless. Without action, I feel broken. Without action, I feel defeated. I need action. So, I found action. I went into Leesburg and participated in the “I Can’t Breathe – Silent Walk.” I walked and talked alongside over 1,000 Loudouners in unity. And, it felt great. And, my spirit was awakened. I became stronger. I was ready for further action.
So, I decided on and come to you with action – I come to you with a challenge. I need you to join me and “VoiceUP!” I promise you that I will “VoiceUP!” That means that I will step up and speak up when I see an injustice. Be that injustice in the Courts, in the grocery store, at the gas station, in the streets, in a restaurant, in a park, or anywhere that I am. And, I want you to “VoiceUP!” I need you to “VoiceUP!” in the board room, at the daycare center, in the schools, at your job, in your community – everywhere you are, “VoiceUP!” when you see an injustice. We need to stand up for all members of our community and at all times. Not just after a tragedy. When we “VoiceUP!”, each of us has the opportunity to protect and raise up our neighbors.
George Floyd is dead because not one of the four former Minneapolis police officers chose to “VoiceUP!” Not one of them said “stop,” “no” or “enough.” I truly believe that if just one of them chose to “VoiceUP!”, George Floyd would still be on this earth and his children would still have a father in their lives.
Since that fateful day, our community has fallen into an abyss I can only call grief. We have grieved over the senseless killings of Trevon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castillo, Antwon Rose, Jr., Ahmoud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd. And only God knows how many others that were not exposed and video-taped for us to know their names. And, each day we continue grieving because many of us feel powerless, helpless and hopeless. I am reaching out to you to say “VoiceUP!”
When I was struggling for action, I was confronted by the fear that our community would succumb to its grief, anger, and rage. That the destruction that we are seeing nationwide would infiltrate our community and break us further. I am proud to say, we are Loudoun! We will not hurt, destroy or injure one another! Yes, we will “VoiceUP!” We will work together to have conversations that may be extremely uncomfortable, troubling and hurtful. But, we will work towards a more unified and just community. We have the opportunity and responsibility to “VoiceUP!” By embracing our voices, we will see each other with new eyes. We have to see each other as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and mothers and fathers. We have to come together with warmth, humility and mostly, humanity so we can develop unity and address the problem – because it is OUR problem. And, we can do it – we are Loudoun! As has been said before “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I choose to stand with Loudoun.
Since May 25, many of us have experienced a roller coaster of emotions – our emotions include shock, anger, fear, rage and frustration. Today, I say to each and every person in Loudoun County and beyond, to include the entire United States “VoiceUP!” Yesterday, at 3 p.m. our community engaged in a Silent Walk in memory of the murder of George Floyd. We walked together in peace and unity through the streets of Leesburg and onto the Courthouse lawn and gathered in front of the courthouse steps and we revived hope. Let’s keep walking towards solutions for our community.
As the world witnessed the pseudo lynching of George Floyd by four men who murdered him all the while dishonoring their uniforms and the positions of trust and respect that they were granted, we felt shock – how is this happening yet again! And we watched as they allowed Chauvin to place and keep his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 mins and 46 seconds. They failed to act and save George Floyd’s life. Even after they checked George Floyd’s pulse and determined there was none, they allowed Chauvin to keep his knee on George Floyd’s neck for another 173 seconds. They failed George Floyd. They failed the people of Minneapolis. And, they failed all of us. I pray and hope that Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng – the four former Minneapolis Police Officers who murdered George Floyd while the world watched, are charged, prosecuted, convicted and punished. But, that is not enough – it is time for us to “VoiceUP!”
Anyone who embraces destruction under the cover of protest only serves to muffle our voices. We will “VoiceUP!” and not tolerate it. We will not engage in the destruction that we see elsewhere because that defeats us in our purpose which is to condemn the murder of George Floyd. We will not destroy businesses as most are barely surviving due to COVID-19 because that only harms our community and detracts from our condemnation of the murder of George Floyd. We will not engage in violence that endangers lives because that only harms our community and takes the focus away from the murder of George Floyd. So, Loudoun “VoiceUP!”
To every law enforcement officer who condemns the actions of Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, and recognizes them to be the criminals that they are – we thank you and will continue to respect and protect you. For any law enforcement officer serving in Loudoun County who does not have a problem with the actions of those cowards, surrender your badge, you have no place here in our community. And, I commit to assist every head of each law enforcement agency to get rid of you immediately. We will treat you like the criminal you choose to become if you dishonor the uniform and badge and violate our trust. We will not let you place our community and the honest police officers in jeopardy because of your ill will. You will have no place here in our community.
So now, I say to you – each and every one of you. “VoiceUP!” Regardless of the color of our skin, the country of our birth, the language of our voices, the level of our education, the jobs that we have, the money in our bank accounts, the circles that we run in – “VoiceUP!”
To Loudoun County Sheriff Chapman “VoiceUP!”
To Leesburg Police Chief Brown “VoiceUP!”
To Purcellville Police Chief McAlister “VoiceUP!”
To Middleburg Police Chief Panebianco “VoiceUP!”
To all of my partners in Justice and our community law enforcement leaders in America: “VoiceUP!”
To our elected Board of Supervisors: “VoiceUP!”
To our elected School Board Members: “VoiceUP!”
To Every Elected Official across our County: “VoiceUP!”
To Every School Board Administrator: “VoiceUP!”
To Every Teacher in our Loudoun classrooms: “VoiceUP!”
To Every Coach and Mentor: “VoiceUP!”
To every Loudoun County Employee: “VoiceUP!”
To Our Judges who have the power and responsibility to end the systemic injustices that make up our criminal justice system: “VoiceUP!”
To all of Our Business Partners: “VoiceUP!”
To All of Our Institutions of Higher Learning; “VoiceUP!”
To Every Loudoun County Resident: “VoiceUP!”
To Every Parent, Grandparent, Aunt and Uncle, Neighbor, Friend,Co-worker Colleague: “VoiceUP!”
Have the conversations that share the experiences and heart of one another. When you hear racist words, “VoiceUP!.” When you see racist acts, “VoiceUP!” When you have the opportunity to teach humanity, “VoiceUP!”
We are Loudoun and we will “VoiceUP!” If we continue to be silent, we are no different than the 3 former police officers who did nothing, said nothing and destroyed everything that was George Floyd. What do you want to stand for – Loudoun? “VoiceUp!”
Yesterday was a day of revival – we saw that we all have hope. Today is a day of empowerment – we can all “VoiceUP!” Today and every day hereafter is a day of action. I am seeking your thoughts and ideas on how we can better serve our community. What do you think we need to and can do to ensure that there is never a Derek Chauvin in our midst? That there is never a Derek Chauvin wearing our police uniforms? How can we better support our community – to include our African American families – to give them safety and security? To ensure them that when they wake up in the morning, they don’t need to worry whether they will come home alive in the evening? So that no Loudouner has to suffer like the family and friends of George Floyd.