By Joycelin Wong
Despite the looming threat of the Coronavirus, people are fighting against another pandemic: systemic racism. Prompted by the unjust death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, millions of protestors have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to police brutality and racism. As images of clashes between the police and protestors dominate the news, there have also been an abundance of friendly interactions between both sides that the media has not highlighted. Solidarity marches have erupted in other countries around the world as well: Canada, Brazil, France, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom to name a few. Taking a knee, holding posters, and chanting “No justice, no peace,” many frustrated protestors are demanding change in policing, laws, and society.
Who Was George Floyd?
According to The New York Times, George Perry Floyd Jr. was originally born in North Carolina, and he grew up in one of Houston’s poorest neighborhoods. He established himself as a star basketball and football player throughout high school, leading his team to the Texas State Championships in 1992. Mr. Floyd was the first of his siblings to attend college and did so on an athletic scholarship. After attending South Florida Community College and transferring to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Mr. Floyd dropped out. After his return to Texas, he faced several arrests and incarcerations for theft and drug-related offenses. After prison, Mr. Floyd became even more committed to his church. Inspired by his daughter Gianna Floyd, Mr. Floyd became involved in a Christian program that was designed to help men with drug rehabilitation and job placement. In 2014, Mr. Floyd moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in hopes of a fresh start and began working as a truck driver and a bouncer. In 2017, Mr. Floyd worked as a security guard at a downtown homeless shelter and transitional housing facility. His colleagues remember him as someone with a steady temperament, who frequently offered to protect other employees by walking them to their cars. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Floyd lost his job as a security guard. Mr. Floyd spent the last week of his life recovering from the Coronavirus and spending time with his loved ones.
What is the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Black Lives Matter, according to the organization’s website, was founded in 2013, following the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. The Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. aims to eradicate white supremacy and empower local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities. The global organization is designed to combat acts of violence, establish a space for Black imagination and innovation, and ultimately improve the lives of African Americans.
May 25, 2020: The 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds that Sparked an Overdue Awakening
After a convenience store employee called 911 and reported to the police that Mr. Floyd had purchased cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man. Through videos recorded by bystanders and a security camera, Mr. Floyd is seen being pinned beneath three police officers. Calling out for his late mother, exclaiming, “They’re going to kill me,” and yelling “Please, I can’t breathe,” Mr. Floyd began showing no signs of life as he lay unconscious after his last words. While Mr. Floyd was pleading for his life, Derek Chauvin is seen kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Even after Mr. Floyd had lost consciousness, Mr. Chauvin did not remove his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck, and for another full minute after paramedics had arrived at the scene. Mr. Chauvin’s fellow police officers watched and did not stop their colleague from kneeling on Mr. Floyd. Shortly after this incident, videos depicting Mr. Floyd’s death quickly spread across social media and news outlets, fueling protests that would continue for the next few weeks.
May 26, 2020: The Recurring Problem of Racially Motivated Attacks
CNN reported that following Mr. Floyd’s death, the Police Department fired all four of the officers that were involved in Mr. Floyd’s arrest. CNN reporters also noted that the Department of Justice announced their investigation into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery as a hate crime. Ahmaud Arbery’s case also caused nationwide outrage after a video of two white men chasing him as he was jogging emerged. These two men shot him to death. Although no arrests were made when the incident happened in February, the two men and a third white man who filmed the killing were arrested.
May 28, 2020: Arrests and Demonstrations
CNN detailed that in New York, the New York Police Department carried out more than 40 arrests during the George Floyd protests. Many of the protestors were charged with obstruction of governmental administration, criminal possession of a weapon, and trying to disarm an officer. Protests arose in almost every major city in the United States and other parts of the world.
May 29, 2020: Clashes, Arrests and Attacks on Journalism
Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman announced that Derek Chauvin, the officer seen most clearly in witness videos pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Protests erupted in multiple cities over George Floyd’s death. Dramatic scenes unfolded in Minneapolis after police clashed with protestors. Police officers--equipped with riot gear, pepper spray, tear gas, and batons--launched into action to disperse crowds. Meanwhile in some states, as protestors kneeled, police officers kneeled alongside the marchers. Protestors were seen throwing projectiles at officers and setting buildings on fire. The Minnesota National Guard deployed more than 500 soldiers to St. Paul, Minneapolis and surrounding communities. At one of the protests in Minneapolis, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, who identifies as both Black and Latino, was arrested while reporting on live television. As seen in the CNN segment, despite following orders from state troopers and identifying himself as a journalist, Mr. Jimenez, along with producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez, was arrested. When Mr. Jimenez questioned why he was being arrested, the officer claimed that he was “following orders.” However, Mr. Jimenez’s white colleague Josh Campbell was reporting not too far from him, and Mr. Campbell noted that he was “treated much differently.” He described peacefully talking to the National Guard and police, and being asked politely to move. Mr. Campbell explained that his experience was “A lot different here than what Omar experienced.” After Mr. Jimenez and his crew were released from custody, Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz apologized for the arrest of the CNN team and deemed that the arrests were “unacceptable.” Meanwhile in Houston, a number of police officers were hospitalized after protests broke out. A Detroit police officer was taken to the hospital after being struck by a rock that was thrown by a protestor. Although many of these protests did seem to turn violent, there were still many peaceful protests around the country. While on air with CNN reporter Chris Cuomo, CNN’s Nick Valencia reported while being trapped inside the Atlanta, Georgia CNN office. Live images from the standoff inside the CNN Center depicted protestors breaking glass windows, throwing firecrackers and other projectiles at the police barricade, and police officers holding shields. Due to the protests, the White House was placed on lockdown. President Trump was briefly taken to the underground bunker as the protests grew outside the White House. In a statement released on Twitter, former President Barack Obama discussed the anguish that the African American community is experiencing.
May 30, 2020: Demands for Justice, Vandalism and Pepper Spray
Prompted by the civil disobedience in Denver, Colorado, police deployed pepper balls as a means of settling down the large group of protestors. While a crew for CNN affiliate WAVE was reporting live from Louisville, Kentucky, police officers fired pepper bullets directly at them. 25 cities across 16 states imposed curfews. The National Guard was deployed in states like Georgia, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Utah, etc. Footage depicts more than 250 protestors in Nashville, Tennessee gathered in front of the Central Police Precinct. Many of them chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter.” Some protestors in New York spray painted and defaced a NYPD van. Many statues that symbolize African American oppression and the Jim Crow era were vandalized or pulled down. Clashes between police and protestors continued around the country as police officers used rubber bullets and force to disperse the crowds. State Senator Zellnor Myrie and NYS Assemblymember Diana C. Richardson were pepper sprayed and handcuffed during a protest at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
June 1, 2020: Looters, Attacks on Protestors and a Photo-op
According to CNN, a small group of looters, not to be confused with peaceful protestors, rampaged through luxury shops and small businesses in SoHo in lower Manhattan. In New York and other regions of the country, looters stole from stores and burned several businesses. CBS News reported that Six Atlanta police officers were charged after they used excessive force during a protest arrest incident that involved two college students. Body camera video showed police officers forcefully dragging two college students out of their car. According to CNN, in Washington, D.C., police and National Guard troops used tear gas and other riot control tactics to forcefully disperse peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square and surrounding streets to create a path for President Trump. Accompanied by administration and military officials, President Trump walked from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church where he posed with a Bible for a photo-op.
June 3, 2020: A Good Samaritan and Holding Officers Accountable
Hennepin County prosecutors added a more serious second-degree murder charge against Mr. Chauvin and also charged each of the three other former officers--Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao--with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. CNN also noted that with the newly enforced 7 pm to 6 am curfew in Washington, D.C., Rahul Dubey opened his house to and sheltered 70 strangers. As the curfew struck, dozens of protestors desperately stood outside of Mr. Dubey’s house, running away from authorities using pepper spray. The protestors stayed overnight and stayed until curfew was up.
June 5, 2020: When Push Comes to Shove
According to multiple news outlets, Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old man, was pushed to the ground by a Buffalo police officer after peaceful protests at Buffalo City Hall. A video depicted Mr. Gugino approaching a line of police and an officer pushing him backward. As he stumbled back and fell to the ground, he hit his heat on the sidewalk and blood pooled around his head. Despite this scene, the police officers continued to walk around him as they waited for paramedics to arrive. It was announced that Mr. Gugino was in serious but stable condition. The two officers that were involved in this situation were forced to resign without pay. However, over 50 members of the Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response team resigned from their special positions in support of the two officers.
June 9, 2020: A Marriage, a Memorial and a Marine
Thousands of people flooded the streets of Philadelphia as a bride and groom joined the protests with their fists raised just moments before saying their vows. Despite the Coronavirus pandemic, many health care professionals and doctors joined in the protests and marched through the streets. A memorial service for George Floyd was organized across the country. As a final goodbye, thousands of mourners attended Mr. Floyd’s funeral and visited his casket to pay their respects. As a result of the protestors’ calls for change, many states have considered changing police funding, and others have decided to ban chokeholds and restrict the use of tear gas. The New York Times also reported that a New Jersey corrections officer was suspended and a FedEx employee was fired for re-enacting the killing of George Floyd at a counterprotest against the anti-police brutality and anti-racism marches. A U.S. Marine veteran stood outside the State Capitol in Utah, with “I can’t breathe'' taped over his mouth for so long that the soles of his shoes began to melt. While in uniform, he stood there for three hours in complete silence. For the duration of his protest, he had only moved to take a knee and stand at attention.
June 11, 2020: Apologies, Bail and Change
Thomas Lane, one of the four officers charged in George Floyd’s death, was released from jail after raising $1 million in donations for his bond. Country band Lady Antebellum announced that they would be changing their name to Lady A as their original name was a reference to slavery. America’s top general, Mark Milley, apologized for appearing in a photo-op with President Trump after officers forcefully dispersed peaceful protestors outside the White House.
June 12, 2020: The Beginning of Reform
In his daily briefing, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a police reform legislative package as a move to hold police officers more accountable. The bills would criminalize chokeholds and other controversial restraints. Additionally, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order that made state funding to police contingent on New York agencies developing a plan by April 1 as a means to reinvent and modernize police strategies. According to CNN, one of the measures outlaws the use of police chokeholds, classifying it as a class C felony that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The bill also repeals a controversial law, Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law, that prevents disciplinary records for police officers, firefighters, or corrections officers to be released without their written consent. This would force the New York Police Department to be more transparent. Similar legislation has been signed and passed in other states. Protests and demonstrations continue to spread across the world.
What Can You Do to Bring about Change?
Whether it’s reading books by African American authors or watching documentaries on Netflix, the most important thing you can do to help in the battle against racial inequality is to educate yourself about the history and roots of racism in the United States. As the result of signing petitions, many cases, like those of Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and countless other African American victims of police brutality, were reopened; petitions for new legislations and bans have also seen success. Contact your local or state representatives and demand new policies and legislation. If you’re able to do so, donate to organizations. It is also imperative to participate in discussions about race and privilege with family and friends. Ultimately, understanding the pain of the African American community and making yourself a better ally will bring about change.