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Local state representative reacts to George Floyd’s death, says he sometimes feels unsafe

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The death of George Floyd after being detained by the Minneapolis Police Department has sparked widespread outrage. It's even lead one Rockford lawmaker to share his experience and concerns.

13WREX spoke with State Representative Maurice West about why he sometimes feels unsafe as a black man in his own community.

The video of Floyd's death, which we watched alongside, "virtually," Rep. West, is raw and disturbing. It displays an incomprehensible death.

West paused after watching the video, then said, "My reaction is, that could've been me."

It's a sobering reminder, even for a state representative, of what it's like being a black man in America.

West, still looking at the screen where the video had played, said, "We have to say his name… George Floyd."

Tuesday night, West took to social media to post a message, not just because of Floyd's death, which had him upset, but to address a problem he says of black men — including himself — feeling threatened in their own communities.

He says it exists even right here in Rockford and it's led him to re-think taking walks alone at night in his own neighborhood, and the town he grew up in.

"We've always been told growing up, when the world says 100 percent, as a black person, you need to give 110 percent," West explained.

He says from time to time he wonders, if a situation does arise, will he even be able to get out the words of who he is before action is taken?

"It's something your mother, your parental figures, tell you to watch out for," West said.

And he says that concept couldn't be truer in the age of COVID-19 and face masks. He told a 13 News a story of a recent experience.

"I walked out of a coffee shop as a little, petite white lady walked in," West began. "I saw fear hit her eyes as soon as she laid eyes on me because I scared her. I was opening the door for her, but I had a mask on and so it instantly told me I need to let people know who I am so that during this pandemic, I won't be a casualty... because you're scared who is behind the mask."

West now wears a mask with his name stitched on it. Though many may glance and see it as a campaign tool, West says it's a matter of perspective, because behind that mask is a soon-to-be-father to a new baby girl.

Behind that mask is a man who used to run through the neighborhoods of Rockford to attend church services.

Behind that mask is a man who wants things to change so that everyone, including his family, feels safe.

West stresses his Facebook message isn't anti-police, in fact his father is the Chairman of the Rockford Police Commission. But he does want to see change and the first step he says is opening up about how he and others feel in their own communities.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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