On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first police arrived at the scene, Floyd was unconscious and held by three police officers, showing no signs of life.
A combination of videos from bystanders and security cameras have shown in details officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and turned fatal, leaving George Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and eyewitnesses called out for help. The following day, the Police Department fired all four of the officers involved in the episode. On May 29, the Hennepin County attorney, Mike Freeman, announced third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges against Derek Chauvin, the white officer seen most clearly in videos pinning Floyd to the ground. He kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Videos show that Chauvin did not remove his knee even after Floyd lost consciousness, and for a full minute after paramedics arrived at the scene.
Floyd’s death triggered demonstrations and protests in over 2,000 U.S. cities and around the world against police brutality, police racism, and lack of police accountability. In early June, the Minneapolis City Council took action to ban choke holds and require police officers to intervene against the use of excessive force by other officers, and voted an intent to replace the police department with a new community-based system of public safety. The Minneapolis Police Chief canceled contract negotiations with the police union and announced plans to bring in outside experts to examine how the union contract can be restructured to give transparency and flexibility to a profound reform.
The area around the place where Floyd was killed became a makeshift memorial throughout May 26, with many signs paying tribute to him and referencing to Black Lives Matter movement. Along the day, more people showed up to demonstrate against Floyd’s death and police violence. The crowd then marched to the 3rd Precinct of the Minneapolis Police using posters and slogans with phrases such as “Justice for George”, “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter”. Initially peaceful, the protests turned violent in some areas, registering some vandalism and a more energetic police reaction – which means tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets and smoke bombs.
All around the country, and soon all around the world, people started going out to the streets to show their anger and dissatisfaction with police violence and racism. Mostly peaceful, the pattern repeated for several days. A public memorial was held on June 4th at North Central University in Minneapolis. A public viewing and a family memorial were held in North Carolina on June 6th, near Floyd’s hometown. His family held a public memorial in Houston on June 8th. Floyd was buried next to his mother in Pearland, Texas.
Since that tragic day, some things have changed. Police departments across the country were critical and expressed dismay at Floyd’s treatment. His death is deeply disturbing and should be of concern to all Americans. The National Police Foundation President said “These actions jeopardize the gains that have been made through the sacrifice and courage of many”. Leaders have spoken all across the United States and condemned the officers’ actions. Little by little, police departments started changing their methods.
HAS AMERICA FINALLY RECOGNIZED ITS RACIST BACKGROUND?
Protests over the death of George Floyd have quickly given rise to a vast American reckoning with racism, as a backlash against entrenched inequality that reverberates across society. From the upper levels of corporations and media organizations to the pages of the dictionary and everyday conversations. The fallout has been fierce. The demand for consequences reflects a considerable change in public opinion, as Congress races to address police accountability in law enforcement.
Public opinion on race and criminal justice issues has been steadily moving left since Floyd’s death. Police brutality and racism are not new to Americans, but it seems that society has reached its limit. Over the last weeks, support for Black Lives Matter increased by nearly as much as it had over the previous two years. The movement has never been so popular. It’s everywhere on social media, mentioned by common people and celebrities.
The Black Lives Matter movement emerged over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. As a slogan, “Black lives matter” became as widely heard at protests as “No justice, no peace.” The phrase was praised for its clarity and, unfortunately, support grew as the list of slain black people got longer: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile. It’s fundamental to say and remember their names.
Today, the BLM movement boasts a following of millions across social media platforms. People are talking about it, reading about it, posting about it. A coalition known as the Movement for Black Lives, formed in 2014, now includes more than 150 affiliate organizations that work on causes such as defunding police departments and reinvesting in black communities. Its agenda focuses on overhauling police training, the use of force and the punishment methods. The movement is also pressing to erase economic inequality and disparities in education and health care.
HOW CAN WHITE PEOPLE FIGHT RACISM?
Being not racist is not enough. We must be anti-racist and take active role in search of social changes. Some small actions are very important in this journey:
1. Listen to people who have been through racist experiences. Believe what they say.
2. Do your own research: find books, websites, podcasts, etc. to educate yourself.
3. Have conversations with friends, family members and co-workers about anti-racism.
4. Follow black influencers online.
5. Support business owned by black people.
6. Pay black employees fairly and have adequate representation in your workplace.
7. Hold businesses that you support accountable – always consider where you spend your money.
8. Vote for legislation and leaders that are anti-racist.
9. Admit when you’re wrong and create a plan to do better.
10. Remember: this is a never-ending process.