A Black officer with the Tustin Police Department in Southern California was celebrated by his chief for making a video in which he called out the Minneapolis police officers charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.
On Thursday, May 28, Sgt. Robert Nelson, 34, uploaded a video to his personal social media account to offer his take on Floyd’s death after being asked his opinion by family and friends.
He attributed Floyd’s death to the Minneapolis police officers’ “ego and pride” and the officers not wanting to “seem inferior” to the predominately Black crowd around them.
“Is this about race or is this about training?” Nelson asked in the video. “I personally believe this may have played out differently if George was not Black. But I believe more that if the crowd around him were not Black, it most certainly would have played out differently.”
When the video opens, Nelson is wearing his hat backwards with a hoodie. In his preamble, he talks about a woman he once helped slamming a door in his face and calling him a murderer.
He said he didn’t blame her, then revealed his occupation.
“I’m currently a sergeant and I’ve always been Black. Notice that I didn’t say ‘but,’ and that was intentional. That’s because I’m not trying to validate one over the other or contradict the other. It’s just what I am,” Nelson said.
Positing that being Black molded him into who he is, Nelson is very candid throughout his nearly 10-minute commentary.
“My foundation as the person and the person I am today, it comes from urban Black America. What I’ve seen growing up is more traumatic than what I’ve seen as a police officer for almost six years now,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s video made it all the way to Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg, who is white. Greenberg not only reached out to Nelson to tell him he was proud of him, but by June he also promoted the video and used it to launch the department’s multi-week video series entitled “It Starts With Us.”
“It was unplanned, it was unrehearsed and it was unscripted,” Greenberg said in his intro to Nelson’s video. “In his mind it might have been out of policy, but in his mind, it was important enough that he wanted to get the message out that he would stick his neck out for the greater good and we’re glad he did.”
Named “Officer of the Year” in 2016, Nelson said he was grateful for his chief’s support.
“Chief Greenberg texted me, ‘I’m proud of you,’” Nelson told Mercury News. “I thought, ‘Oh, man.’ I didn’t understand how it got to him so quickly. But he was very complimentary. That means a lot to me.”
Originally from Compton, California, Nelson said he understood Black people’s frustration and the protests, but didn’t condone destruction of property.
“I’m not going to tell anyone how they should express their frustration, it’s not my place,” Nelson continued. “Rioting and African-American culture goes as far back as Nat Turner revolting against slave traders and slave hunters. I won’t justify that … [but] I’m reluctant to say that I get it.”
He further criticized the Minneapolis officers in Floyd’s case for their cowardice.
“There’s no justifying, no defending what occurred,” Nelson said. “To the officers that allowed that to happen, shame on you for being meek and not having enough confidence as a man to swallow your pride and do the right thing.”
Nelson’s situation is a far cry from that of former Greensboro police officer Jaquay D. Williams, 29, who took to TikTok to express how “disgusted” he was about Floyd’s murder on May 27.
Williams was placed under investigation and ultimately fired on Aug. 13 from the department after his video went viral.
Ron Glenn, a spokesperson for the Greensboro police, said Williams wasn’t let go because of the video, but failed to give an actual reason. He said it was a personnel matter they couldn’t speak about publicly.
Nelson concluded his video expressing his hope that in the future there will be a way to bridge the gap between citizens and law enforcement.
“I’m willing to stay in the fight and continue to do my part. … To my Compton folks, everything I do in this job, I do with you in mind and that’s real talk. To my law enforcement folks, we got this. We can turn this thing around,” Nelson said.