On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd's neck was knelt on for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the last three minutes of which, Floyd was unresponsive after repeatedly crying out, "I can't breathe." The killing was caught on video from a bystander's cell phone, which quickly went viral. In response, protests have erupted in cities not only across the US, but all over the world.
All four officers in the incident were swiftly fired. The officer, Derek Chauvin, which knelt on Floyd's neck, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers, Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Why are there so many people protesting now?
Police brutality against black Americans and other people of colour in the United States is not a new development. It has left many to wonder why now, in the midst of a global pandemic, are there so many people protesting.
One reason could be that Floyd's graphic murder was caught clearly on video, which leaves little to debate over the fact that the police used excessive and unnecessary force to arrest a man that allegedly tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill at a store. It is worth noting that this is all taking place during a pandemic, which affects black communities more and during a time when millions have lost their incomes and health insurance.
Another factor could be that racially driven civil rights movements happen to be generational. Every younger generation, building on the previous movements, rises up and decries the inequalities of their present conditions.
Moreover, the United States is in a state of uncertainty due to a pandemic, an economic depression and an upcoming presidential election. This is also occurring while the nation has a sitting president in office, Donald Trump, who many claim is an instigator of racist violence and who has ultimately failed to respond to the pandemic.
Lastly, in recent years, there has been a series of killings of black Americans at the hands of police officers, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, and Breonna Taylor, which have received some media coverage and have brought heightened awareness to the racial injustices that are happening in the United States. Many Americans cannot tolerate it anymore. Enough is enough.
Have the protests been peaceful?
The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Although, there has been some instances of looting and property destruction. This behaviour has been recognised by several sociologists as largely isolated from protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Although, it is not always the case. Some activists on the internet claim that "merchandise can be replaced, black lives cannot." Sociologists contend that there are people that come to the protests with different motivations other than protesting against racial injustice, such as protesting against capitalism with the intention to redistribute power and property through looting and property destruction.
Despite the fact that the peaceful protests are against police brutality, the protesters have often been met with more police brutality. Protesters are faced with pepper spray, batons, vehicles, rubber bullets, punching, pushing, fists, and chemical weapons, such as tear gas. People are coming to the protests with peaceful intent, but are getting injured, arrested, ending up with life-threatening injuries, or in some cases ending up dead, such as the death of Sarah Grossman and more. In an article at the Intercept, Ryan Devereaux characterised the situation as the following: "The country is now witnessing what years of militarised conditioning, training, and culture have wrought: a nationwide protest movement running up against a nationwide police riot."
In response to the nationwide protests, Trump threatened to deploy troops on domestic soil. He was met with opposition from the pentagon and was critiqued by former military officials because it would threaten democracy. As a form of compromise the National Guard was deployed.
What does defund the police mean?
Now, it has been two weeks after the passing of George Floyd and cities nationwide are demanding for the defunding of police, which is meant to be a call to put to redistribute budgets from police to other areas related to social work, education, transportation, housing and mental health. Moreover, the aim is to "reimagine public safety tactics in ways that are different from traditional police forces."
In an interview with Democracy Now!, Linda Sarsour explains that, "defund the police today," means the following:
"We need to let the cops do what the cops are supposed to do: keep people safe. They are not social workers. They are not mental health professionals. They are not educators. So they are actually engaging in activity that does not match the qualifications nor the criteria of a police officer. That is not what they are trained to do in the police academy, so why are we sending them to address things that have nothing to do with them?"
Currently, cities nationwide are considering police department reforms. Democrats released a major police reform bill that would make changes to policy policy across the nation. This includes, making lynching a federal crime, banning chokeholds, making it more available to sue officers that have killed or injured unjustly, ending racial profiling and more. It ignores the demands to defund the police, however.