It feels like we’re living through a history textbook chapter. The year started off with wildfires in Australia and it continued with a pandemic. Now, riots are happening all over the country with a particular name ringing: George Floyd.
George Floyd was a 46-year-old, Houston-native black man who had moved to Minneapolis several years ago. There, at a grocery store on May 25, an employee called the police after Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill. However, when the police got there, white police officer Derek Chauvin held Floyd to the ground. Even though he was already in handcuffs and did not resist arrest, Chauvin pinned him to the pavement with his knee on Floyd’s neck. In a video taken of the incident, Floyd can be heard pleading, saying that he can’t breathe until he eventually passes away. Through the entire thing, Derek Chauvin looks completely unbothered.
Sadly, Floyd is not the first victim of murder by the police because of his race. Police brutality against black people has been an on-going issue in the United States for many years, giving birth to the movement Black Lives Matter. George Floyd’s murder is a perfect example of how racism still stands strong in this country, and he’s become the dominant representation of a movement that screams: We’ve had enough.
A racial matter
George Floyd’s murder was not an ordinary one. It was driven by the color of his skin. Black people face a terrifying reality in this country: The police are not there to protect them. The cops are someone they need protection from.
In fact, according to Mapping Police Violence, an organization dedicated to showcasing police violence as accurately as possible, black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Not only that, but they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than white people. Then why are they more often perceived as a threat?
The disparity between how threatening they are seen as isn’t only apparent in these numbers and statistics. A recent example is the protests against the lockdown, compared to the protests happening right now after Floyd’s murder. The response from the police has been entirely different. Not only from them but from the president himself.
On the one hand, the protestors against lockdown were armed. They were also predominantly white. They were demanding things such as haircuts and golf, and in places such as Michigan, they even stormed the state capitol with guns. This could logically be perceived as threatening. Armed people were going in, obviously trying to intimidate others. The police response to this was to stand there stoically. In addition to that, President Donald Trump himself expressed support for these protests by saying, “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
On the other hand, the protestors for Black Lives Matter were unarmed. Many of them were protesting peacefully, and the police were the ones to escalate things to violence. They used tear gas on people that did not pose a threat and did not attack first. The demographic for these protests was significantly more varied than for the lockdown protests, with a significant amount of black people involved. President Donald Trump also had something to say to this. Still, it was unsurprisingly not as understanding as his other statement: “....These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Therefore, the murder of George Floyd isn’t only reflective of the racism of one police officer, but of a broken system. One that has racism seeped deep into its institutions, one that oppresses black people from the very starting blocks from which it’s built. One in which the president will speak up in defense of armed white people, but pass on attempts to understand those oppressed by the system he supports and represents.
Accountability for the guilty
A lot of the unrest fueling the movement is the impunity and excessive humanity with which Derek Chauvin has been treated after murdering George Floyd. President Donald Trump said in his official statement, “I’ve asked that the Department of Justice expedite the federal investigation into his death and do it immediately, do it as quickly as absolutely possible.” Now, upon reading this, I wondered, what exactly is there to investigate?
Few murder cases have as clear evidence as this one. We can see the culprit committing the crime until it’s completed, we can see the victim begging for his life and Chauvin not reacting in the slightest. He is guilty, and anyone who tries to go around that is being complicit to the systematic racism that the police have been blameworthy of enabling and participating indirectly for years.
Derek Chauvin lost his job; however, he was not arrested until Friday morning, even though the crime was committed on a Monday. There was substantial evidence to arrest him from days previous. He was initially charged with third-degree murder, but this charge has now been increaseed to second-degree murder. In addition, after more than a week later, the three other officers involved, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, were finally charged with aiding and abetting murder.
The increase in charges and charging the other police officers comes after days of protesting and people demanding justice. Even when Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder after initially not facing larger consequences than losing his job, people weren’t satisfied. This is because it is clear is that it was not third-degree murder, as it was intentional. Even though now the officers responsible for Floyd’s murder are being held accountable, it took nation-wide protests and over a week for it to happen. And we have yet to see what these charges result in.
It’s also worth noting that Derek Chauvin has a history of complaints. According to The Washington Post, he “was involved in the fatal shooting of another, and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department.” This should raise enough flags to further investigate all these complaints and see if this is the only crime Chauvin has been part of.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of accountability for police officers is not news. Mapping Police Violence states that 99% of killings by police between the years 2013 to 2019 did not result in officers being charged with a crime.
Black Lives Matter
#BlackLivesMatter was a movement founded in 2013 as a response to Trayvon Martin’s murderer being acquitted. Since then, it has earned a large following and support from people, mostly motivated by the systematic oppression black people face, especially by law enforcement. This movement has helped create awareness of people being murdered just because they are black.
The movement gained significant traction after the murder of George Floyd and has resulted in people protesting nation-wide.
Some people have expressed concern or opposition to the movement, a lot of it taking root in the name Black Lives Matter hence, the birth of the counter-movement All Lives Matter. While the intention behind this might be good, as it states that all lives should matter the same and be fought for, it is problematic.
It’s important to realize that Black Lives Matter does not seek to diminish the worth of any other life. Giving rights to one person does not take away from any other. The reason it’s Black Lives Matter over All Lives Matter isn’t that only black lives matter, but because those are the ones being treated like they don’t. Those are the ones being systematically crushed, muted, and oppressed. If black lives don’t matter, then all lives can’t matter because they’re not being included. The system has understood that non-black lives are important, but it hasn’t realized that black lives are just as important. We cannot unite until we all have the same rights, because we don’t all have the same needs. These are different depending on sexual orientation, gender, religion, and in this case, race. Intersectionality allows us to address each of them separately, so every minority group has the opportunity to rise to equal grounds with those who already possess them. Ignoring this isn’t heroic, it’s utopic.
Media is flowing with information on this, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. To feel helpless. When presented with such drastic injustices, it’s prevalent to think: Now what? The good news is there are plenty of things that you can do to combat this injustice.
I believe that first and foremost, it’s essential to take a moment to reflect on how you can be anti-racist in your everyday life. This means challenging racist beliefs or prejudices you might have and those in your immediate environment. We are not born deconstructed, and sadly, a lot of people grow up in situations that promote racists ideologies. It’s up to you to change those within your immediate environment to the best of your ability. This is a constant battle, and it can be uncomfortable and even take time. Not everyone is willing to listen. But make a commitment to speak up when possible, and slowly this will make a difference.
As for more short-term action, you can donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Black Lives Matter, or George Floyd’s brother himself. There are plenty of other places where you can donate, so do some research and see which one you would like to support. And if you aren’t financially capable of doing so, there are videos on Youtube showcasing art by black creators, and the ad revenue for those will be donated. People are getting creative, and there are plenty of resources being shared.
You can also sign petitions, and if it’s an option for you, go protest. Share information. The important thing is to not be quiet, as there is never innocence in ignorance. Remember that being silent when you can choose to speak up is also an act of violence.
Finally, remember to listen to black people. They are the ones directly affected, they are the ones being oppressed. If they say they need something, do your best to give them that. If you’re non-black and have the privilege of amplifying their voices, then use it.
George Floyd was one of many victims of systematic racism in the United States, and we’ve had enough. Demand justice for him, but also for all the other victims. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Sean Reed. And those who have died in silence, with no video or proof. Say their names. Remember them. Speak up. And don’t ever stand down.