Antonio Romanucci (Legal co-counsel of George Floyd's family)

Antonio Romanucci: l'avvocato italoamericano a difesa di George Floyd, in lotta contro il razzismo e l'ingiustizia

Jun 18, 2020 2888 ITA ENG

The world has seen a video in which for 8 minutes and 46 seconds a human being held his knee on the neck of another human being, and killed him, with the complicity of three other human beings. It wasn't a movie, it wasn't a TV show, it wasn't a play. It was unfortunately the truth, the reality, life and death that had been repeated for too long in the United States of America.

We the Italians has always had and will always have nothing but respect and admiration and gratitude for the many police officers, Italian American and not, who fight crime in America and Italy. Not for those few, like the four in Minneapolis, who take advantage of their badge to trample on citizens' rights, and this often happens with African American citizens. The thing I personally hate the most is racism, absolutely.

That is why I am particularly grateful to Francis Donnarumma who helped me reach Antonio Romanucci. Mr. Romanucci is a wonderful example of those Italian Americans who worked hard and achieved the American dream: when America meets Italy you have excellent results. Together with Lead Counsel Mr. Ben Crump, Mr. Romanucci will defend George Floyd's family in the civil case that - we are certain - will bring justice for a heinous, unjust crime that we wish we had never seen and that we wish would never, ever, ever happen again. Justice for George Floyd, and thanks to Antonio Romanucci.

Mr. Romanucci, you are so Italian that unlike many Italian Americans your first name has even remained in the Italian version, Antonio. Where is your family from, and how do you live your Italian heritage?

I am very proud to be Italian. I don't hide from it at all. It's something that I wear very proudly because I'm very honored. My name is Antonio Maurizio Romanucci. And any time that I can write my name down it is an honor for me. My father is originally from Ascoli in the Marche region and my mother was born and raised in Udine in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. I still have many relatives who live in Italy and I go back to visit them very often. They live in Padua, Veneto, in Como in Lombardy and some of them are still in Ascoli. I usually go back at least once every year or once every 18 months, I try to go as much as I can. 

You are a founding partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, a national trial practice committed to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death. Over the decades, Italian Americans have very often been victims of stereotypes and violence. How did your career begin, where does your desire to fight to restore justice to victims of abuse and injustice come from?

As I grew up I learned about the history of Italian Americans in this country and how they did come to America: they were an oppressed people. I was familiar with how hard Italian Americans worked to literally build America. They built the things that we use everyday, whether they are the sewers or the bridges or the things that we rely on, that we take for granted. And so I became sensitive to that issue. Not only for Italian-Americans but also for other people who also lived through oppression in their lifetime. And I took that to be a calling card for myself in the work that I do. So cases about those who have been injured as a result of the negligence of others or those who are being oppressed by authority, especially when we’re talking about civil rights cases, those are very personal to me. Not because I felt the oppression growing up, but I knew that my ancestors did: my great-grandfather or my grandfather or maybe even my father to a lesser extent. So I take that very personally and I work very hard to make sure that justice is restored and that  everybody is treated equally. 

We ask you briefly to remind our readers who George Floyd was, and why he was stopped by the police

George Floyd was an African American gentleman who was living in Minneapolis. The allegation is that he was cashing a counterfeit $20 bill at one of his favorite stores. And so the police were called and they were subduing him and they handcuffed and restrained him with his hands behind his back. And in order to further restrain him three police officers took the entire weight of their bodies either on his neck or on his back with one police officer standing alongside making sure that nobody from the public interfered. Sure enough, medically speaking, after 8 minutes and 46 seconds of maintaining their weight on him, George Floyd was murdered. 

How soon and in what way will the trial of the cops responsible for the murder be held?

There's really no indication yet when the trial will be held. The next [criminal case] court date is June 29th and I plan of being there that day to observe. Obviously, I'm not having a role in the criminal trial: I’m not the prosecutor and I don't defend the police. So I'll be there as an observer, but I would anticipate that the lawyers of the police officers are either going to try to negotiate an agreement for these police officers so that this matter is finished or they're going to delay as long as they can to bring this matter to trial.

It is clear that the murder of George Floyd is now not only a "criminal news case" but also a "political case". Does this make your job and the pursuit of truth and justice easier or more difficult?

In one respect, it does make it more difficult because when you're talking about the notoriety of the George Floyd case, there are so many opinions that are coming up with what's happening. So when you watch television, when you listen to the radio, when you read a newspaper, there are so many opinions out there about what happened and what should happen and how to prevent this from happening again, that the message to the public does get confusing. Sometimes people speak from their heart but them they’re not speaking from pragmatism and then that's what makes my job difficult sometimes, because our message, on behalf of the legal team representing the Floyd family, can get lost when so many other people are sharing their own message. 

Probably, if the cops are convicted, this trial will be a watershed in the history of the United States of America. Do you think that the trial will appease the violence and abuse against the African American population?

That's a good question. I don't know that if one trial can change the opinion in the hundreds of years culture existing in this country. I certainly think that the trial could move the needle but I don't know if it's going to be a watershed moment. If the policemen are found guilty I think there will be celebrations that justice was found. I don't know if that will change the culture if there is the opposite and the officers are found not guilty, then I think that it would certainly bring us back in time and move us backwards instead of forwards. 

How much has technology helped to prove the truth and lead to the arrest of the agents? Do you think this would have happened without video footage?

There's no question that cell phones have dramatically increased transparency and truth, also on behalf of the police, because not all police encounters are constitutional violations: some aren’t and some are. I think cell phone footage has been the deciding factor in many cases. Without the cell phone footage in this particular case regarding George Floyd, I could probably guarantee you that those police officers may have been suspended, but they would still be police officers and I doubt that criminal charges would be brought against them. The cell phone video is what it is: it is incriminating, it shows a public execution, it shows a lynching and there is no reason for it whatsoever. And the cell phone video brought us the truth. So technology has been very important in the prosecution of these cases. 

It seems that George Floyd and Derek Chauvin knew each other, having worked in a club at the same time, and it is said that there was friction between the two even then. Do you think that this might influence in the trial? Do you expect Chauvin's defense to use this fact to argue that the reason for his behavior was not related to Floyd's skin color but to some precedent between them?

I think that answering this question, what’s important is not necessarily what Derek Chauvin thought about George Floyd, but it's how the Minneapolis Police Department dealt with its own systemic institutional racism against black men. This is not Derek Chauvin versus George Floyd or George Floyd versus Derek Chauvin. This is about the Minneapolis Police Department and their culture. This is how the police officers were trained in the philosophy called “killology”. It means “how to kill somebody”. Being trained in killology coupled with the long history that Minneapolis has in its mistreatment of the black men who were non-violent, who were restrained, who committed minor offences: it goes back decades and decades. So whether or not Derek Chauvin knew George Floyd to me is less relevant than Derek Chauvin being trained in killology and the Minneapolis Police Department’s culture of racism. That's why when I talk about this case I say that the Minneapolis Police Department is the one who had their knee on George Floyd’s neck: it wasn’t only Derek Chauvin, it was the entire weight of the Minneapolis Police Department. 

How is it that the Minneapolis Police Department, and probably others in the US, have faced decades of allegations of brutality and discrimination against African Americans and other minorities that have been systemically ignored?

I think that you have to go back to the days of slavery and how white people treated black people. I think it really is an issue that goes back hundreds of years. Why aren’t Latinos or Asians treated in the same way. I think that’s because people who lived in this country hundreds of years ago did not enslave Latinos or people with brown color from the Middle East or people from Asia. So I think that this culture goes back many may years and then the rebellion occurred which lead to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. So I think it goes back to long way why some white people are still skeptical about black people and that’s why they fear them unnecessarily: and it’s a tragedy. It really is a tragic situation that a white person or a police officer fears a person just because of the color of their skin.  

Governor Walz of Minnesota said that he knew "deeply seated issues exist. And the reason I know it is we saw the casual nature of the erasing of George Floyd's life and humanity." Do you think possible holding even governors and mayors accountable when things like this happen?

I certainly believe that mayors have a great responsibility and accountability when it comes to policing in our country and I will tell you exactly why: it's something that I've been talking about for years and years and years and now it's becoming much more true. It’s because mayors are the ones who negotiate the Union contract with the police officers. Nearly every police officer in this country is governed by a union, and the unions are the ones who protect the police officers. They are the ones who bargain the secrecy that exists between police officers who commit many offences and the shield from the public. The public doesn't know which police officers are the good ones and which ones are the bad ones, especially who are the bad ones who should be fired from the police force. The Union creates the code of silence: because if you're a police officer and you tell on another police officer, you become a rat, somebody who is not trustworthy and in all seriousness your life is  at stake. If the mayors finally put their foot down and finally bargain with these Unions so that there is transparency and accountability and the code of silence could be dissolved and the thin blue line that exists between police officers and the public is erased, we would have greater accountability and the mayors would be less responsible. Right now they have responsibility, and I believe they are failing at that responsibility. 

In this regard, there is something that Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, Lead Counsel in the George Floyd civil case, would  stated: “It is critical for everyone to understand that the George Floyd case is not just about four officers who used excessive and deadly force. This is about the culture of impunity in the Minneapolis Police Department for many years and the systemic mistreatment of black Americans. It's that broken system that must change now.”

We've seen a lot of cops sympathize with the peaceful demonstrators these days. Do you agree with those who think that the majority of honest policemen who risk their lives every day to defend citizens against crime would benefit from the punishment of their colleagues who do not respect the law and abuse their shield? 

I have an opinion, which is based on empirical data. In Chicago 3% of police officers should not be Chicago police officers because they account for nearly 80% of the complaints that are registered against them by the citizens of this city. If those 3% of police officers were appropriately disciplined or even terminated from the Police Department that would make the entire Police Department more community friendly. There would be more trust between the community and the police officers by getting rid of the bad apples and the bad seeds. So I do believe that holding accountable and removing the bad police officers makes the entire Department a better and safer one, one in which trust exist between the community and the police. Without trust there is no good policing. 

What do you think of those who manipulate peaceful protests and loot shops, burn cars and unjustly vandalize the statues of Christopher Columbus?

As we've been going around the country, Lead Counsel Ben Crump and I have been talking to everybody we could. We do encourage people to peacefully protest, let them be heard about what they feel need to be changed in this country. I am the first one to say that peaceful protest is a requirement in this country, without it you cannot have change. However when you have violence, people who are seeking merely opportunities in order to enrich themselves at the expense of others without any stake in what they’re doing or what they’re saying is uncalled for and there is no room for that in our society ever. I am totally against the violence and the looting. 

Is there something you want to say to those who are tired of unjustified violence and who want an America where the authority of law enforcement is respected but where excesses are punished as they should be?

This is a very good last question. In order for the unjustified violence to stop, in order for police to be respected, in order for unjustified use of force against citizens to be terminated, you must institute trust. And in order to get trust you have to change the culture. And the culture is not going to change overnight.  George Floyd alone will not change the culture, but he will certainly lead us to a meaningful change of culture in time. I believe that in order for us to see a better society we’re going to have to save lives, and in order to save lives you have to continue to build trust, and it’s going to take a lot of work and a long time in order to do that. But it’s possible. 

Now we see that the Governors and the Mayors of our country are instituting change without even being asked for. They’ve seen what is happening, the burning of this country over the last weeks and they’re taking meaningful changes. They are changing escalation tactics when it comes to stopping people for low level crimes. 

However, the ultimate test of bringing change in this country will be when people vote this November. If we really want change then we will get change by people coming out to vote, and voting somebody out of office, in November. If we see a change at the top, then we will see change in this country come much quicker than what our expectation are. We will not have the change that we want with the current President in our office. 

Mr. Romanucci, thanks for this opportunity. On behalf of myself, my family, all of us at We the Italians and I believe many many people in Italy: please, punish the killers of George Floyd. Please, send them to jail.

I promise you that.

 

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