DETROIT – Hartford Memorial Baptist Church hosted the 2021 Social Justice Conference in Detroit, October 15-17. Well-known Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison served a keynote speaker. The native Detroiter was thrust into the national spotlight after viral video and televised videos showed a Minnesota police officer kneeling his knee for several minutes to the neck of George Floyd on the ground. Ellison prosecuted the case against former police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years in the murder of George Floyd.
The theme of the conference was focused on The Church and Social Justice. “We’re attempting to bring awareness to the role of the Church,” said Johnny Northern, HMBC Trustee and Conference coordinator, Moderator, Rev. Dr. Charmaine Johnson. “How it was, and why it I still should be, in the forefront of seeking equality and justice for all. While highlighting the legacy of HMBC’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement.”
Keith Ellison’s message to the nearly 200 attendees at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church addressed “Breaking the Cycle of Inaction”.
“We live under state-sponsored excessive force,” said Ellison, as he argued how police misconduct settlement cases are expensive to cities and ultimately taxpayers who foot the bill. “I got to know the family of George Floyd. $27 million sounds like a lot of money, but they’ll rather have George Floyd.”
Ellison’s speech was largely focused on his time prosecuting the infamous Derek Chauvin trial and how Black communities need not hold back but continue to fight for social justice as a collective and individually. You’re not a radical when you want to stop police brutality, you’re actually being fiscally conservative”.
He depicted images featured on church monitors which showed still photos of the police encounter with George Floyd and the public as they stood nearby and shouted at Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. Ellison said it was courageous of the public to hold the ex-officer to account, risking their own safety in the moment and speaking in trial. He also gave praise for documenting the encounter which was used as evidence for his office during the investigation and trial.
“If it wasn’t for her uploading that video, the world would not know,” said Ellison, as he spoke of Darnella Frazier, a teenager who used her cellphone to record video of the Floyd police encounter seen around the world. “She said I felt guilty that I didn’t do something but it’s not me who’s wrong for not doing something, you who is wrong for what you did”.
Touted as the ‘People’s Lawyer’, Keith Ellison was sworn in as Minnesota’s 30th attorney general on January 2019. Ellison also served in Congress but spoke Saturday afternoon that he “thought he could do more as AG than only have a vote” as a congressmember. He spoke about always believe he couldn’t institute change better by prosecuting crime and officers when they cross the line.
While being critical of officers who abuse their authority and use excessive force, Ellison also made clear his support for law enforcement. “Officers do dangerous jobs. We have to have compassion for officers who do that job. But I would submit to you, if we work on this issue of police and community relations and reduce deadly force encounters, part of what we will do is work on officer wellness.” Ellison believes if wellness support is given to police departments, it will lead to less stress for officers, including reduced harm and injury to police and citizens. It’s a strong belief he has that the community would be better served.
“If the United States wants to be a beacon of light and hope to the world, we cannot let this tragedy just continue on,” Ellison added.
Ellison also recounted his connection to Detroit, from his time at University of Detroit High School and Wayne State University. “This is my town, …I’m a Detroiter”. However, his loyalty to hometown is questioned when it comes to football. “I have to confess, don’t be mad at me, I was hoping the (Minnesota) Vikings would pull it out in the last 30 seconds,” a reference to the NFL team’s recent matchup with the Detroit Lions.
Dr. Angela D. Dillard author of A Different Shade of Freedom was the event’s luncheon speaker. Dillard spoke to elements of her literature which examines societies hyper-partisan age in the way one writes, understands, and consumes history and how it’s becoming a pressing issue within American political culture.
The Social Justice Conference is an annual event at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and attracts prominent national speakers.