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Syracuse Activist And Mentor Still Seeking Changes One Year After George Floyd's Death

Scott Willis
WAER File Photo

A Syracuse activist and youth mentor says there’s still much work to be done one year after a police officer murdered George Floyd.  Curtis Chaplin was among those who organized the recurring protests in Syracuse that followed Floyd’s death. 

"We came together because we wanted justice, not just within the police force, but at all levels of government.  I feel some of us have let the city down by not taking the next step or taking it to he next level."

But he says others are stepping up to fill the gap.  Chaplin is a former member of Last Chance for Change, a police reform group.  He feels there’s still limited police accountability even after Syracuse and Onondaga County completed their police reform plans and submitted them to the state.  He says last month’s guilty verdict against Derek Chauvin is progress, but has his doubts about sentencing.

"He might not [get] the same time that you and I would [get].  That's going to be a big determining factor on how far we've come.  Do I see him getting the same time as me and you?  No.  Do I feel are going to be in an uproar?  Yes."

Chauvin's sentencing is scheduled for June 25. 

But Chaplin says progress and change go beyond the police.  He says more needs to be done to boost home ownership in black and brown communities, address food deserts, and mentor youth.  WAER News caught up with him as he coached a fitness class for elementary-age students.  He says they also teach kids how to conduct themselves in situations that might arise with law enforcement.

"Our goal is to teach the youth situational awareness.  In these hostile situations, how do you hold yourself, how do you come out of this so you can go home and say hi to your family rather than be behind bars or even worse."

Chaplin says he feels a weight on his shoulders to not fail the next generation, as he says the previous generation failed millennials like him.  He draws from his own previous engagement with law enforcement.

"Whenever I get lights behind me, it's that fear.  I shouldn't have that fear at 30 some-odd years old. However, anything can go wrong.   I've been pulled over a couple times in my life, sometimes for being in the wrong place, which doesn't make sense because I am a citizen.  However, I make sure I breathe and think about everything I do."

He says he’s managed to avoid being harmed during those encounters.  But he knows from George Floyd and so many more, others don’t have the same outcome. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at