Story at a glance
- The death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis has served as a catalyst for a global uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Protesters in cities around the world have demanded justice for Floyd’s death, as well as police reform and accountability from corporations and companies with racially discriminatory policies.
- The massive outcry on social media and in person at protests has sparked the beginning of massive change, from police department budget cuts to resignations and the removal of monuments and statues.
At the end of May, protests erupted across the country, and across the world, with thousands taking to the streets to demand justice be served for the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police officers.
The nationwide spread of anti-racist protests led to an outpouring of both support and criticism for the movement on social media, driving individuals, companies and politicians to take a public stance on divisive issues such as racial equality and the funding of police departments. Calls have been made to defund or outright abolish police departments, organizations and private companies have donated millions, Confederate statues have been dismantled and public apologies have been issued.
Many have compared the current Black Lives Matter movement to the events of the Stonewall Riots back in 1969, when history was made after the first brick was thrown to protest the injustice being faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Just as the Stonewall Riots catalyzed a movement and changed the course of the narrative for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S., these past months have already made changes that certainly should go down in the history books.
“You think something good can’t come out of this? His death did not simply start a bunch of good speeches, a bunch of tributes. Out of his death has come a movement. A worldwide movement,” Rev. William Lawson, pastor emeritus at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, said during Floyd’s funeral service in Houston. “And that movement is not going to stop after two weeks, three weeks, a month. That movement is going to change the world.”
Arrests were made and officers were charged
On May 26, the day following Floyd’s death, all four officers involved in the fatal incident were fired by Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo. Arradondo also called for the opening of a F.B.I. investigation after footage of the crime became public. Three days later, followed heated protests and cries for action, officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder.
Chauvin, whose charges have been escalated to second-degree murder, third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, recently asked a judge to dismiss the murder charges against him, with his attorney stating that “by the time Mr. Chauvin arrived on scene, Mr. Floyd was actively resisting arrest, endangering himself and officers.” The three other officers present were all fired and have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
The quick actions that have been taken to arrest and charge Chauvin and the other police officers stand in stark contrast with how many other police brutality cases have been handled. Protesters are still calling for an arrest to be made for the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician, who was fatally shot eight times in her home by officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department back in March. Most recently, popular print magazines such as Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine and Vanity Fair have even featured Taylor’s image on their September covers.
Police reform is on the horizon
Within weeks of the first BLM protests, declarations of change and reform had already started to make their way into police stations around the nation. Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville announced that police chief Steve Conrad was fired after he learned about the fatal shooting of Black business owner David McAtee by two officers who did not have their body cameras on. In response to the murder of Breonna Taylor Fischer also suspended the use of “no-knock” warrants that allow police officers to enter homes without providing any notice.
In California, prosecutors are lobbying the state bar to ban district attorneys from accepting money from police unions, and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he will “seek to identify $100 million to $150 million in cuts from the LAPD,” and that the funds will funnel into different areas such as jobs, health and education.
Perhaps the most serious change has arrived in Minneapolis — the city where George Floyd died. At the start of June, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to require police officers to intervene anytime they see unauthorized use of force by another officer and to ban police chokeholds altogether. Then, protesters gathered outside the home of mayor Jacob Frey, demanding to know his position on defunding the police. Frey asserted that he did not believe in fully abolishing the police, and was subsequently subjected to chants of “shame.” The City Council, on the other hand, pledged that Sunday to disband the city’s police department and replace it with a new system.
Now, the Minneapolis Police Department will end its police union negotiations in a move to make “transformational” reforms, the police chief announced. “This work must be transformational, but I must do it right,” police chief Arradondo said. “We will have a police department that our communities view as legitimate, trusting and working with their best interests at heart.”
In New York City, the mayor, Bill de Blasio, pledged to redirect some of the New York City police department’s funding towards youth and social services. De Blasio, whose own daughter was arrested during protests back in June, also committed to repealing section 50-A, which prevents the public from accessing disciplinary records of police officers.
More recently, announcements of police reform have still been spreading throughout the country. In Vermont, The Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which represents municipalities at the Statehouse, is pitching a plan for police reform in the state, calling for the creation of a Vermont-based law enforcement accreditation process and looking to expand who can enter law enforcement and how they’re trained.
In North Carolina, the NC Association of Chiefs of Police released a letter stating, “The recent tragic events have highlighted the importance of strong, collaborative relationships between local police and the communities that they protect. Over the past several weeks the NCACP has created a vision to improve the culture of the policing in our state. In developing this vision, the NCACP discussed how race relations, public mental health issues, politics, community policing, criminal behaviors, and the media affect our respective communities. The NCACP developed this vision to guide our police agencies in the current complex environment and improve the quality of policing in our state.”
Statues come down
The long-running debate over whether Confederate monuments are appropriate in public spaces has largely pivoted since the start of 2020’s BLM protests, a 180-degree shift from the events of Charlottesville just three years ago, in which white supremacists converged on the city to protest an attempt to move a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, resulting in three deaths.
Now, statues are coming down left and right. Back in June, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, announced that a statue in Hemming Park had been removed — the first of the city’s Confederate monuments that Curry promised would be taken down. Legislation filed by a city councilman suggests the park may be renamed to honor Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson, the composer of the Black national anthem.
“The Confederate monument is gone, and the others in this city will be removed as well,” Curry said outside City Hall. “We hear your voices. We have heard your voices.”
In Birmingham, Alabama, a Confederate monument that stands in a park was removed by citizens, and in Bentonville, Arkansas attorney Joey McCutchen announced that a Confederate Monument that stands in Bentonville Square will be moved. In Philadelphia, a statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo, known for his racist past, was also removed.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 7, 2020
In cities where the government was not taking action, protesters took matters into their own hands, like in Richmond, Va., where the statue of slave and plantation owner Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham was toppled by use of rope. Protesters in Montgomery, Ala. took down the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and in Bristol, United Kingdom, civilians tore down the statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston before throwing it into the water.
“Moving this statue will not change the past,” said Mobile, Ala. mayor Sandy Stimpson after removing a bronze monument of Civil War Admiral Raphael Semmes. “It is about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city. That conversation, and the mission to create One Mobile, continues today.”
Juneteenth was finally recognized
Once a relatively overlooked holiday, Juneteenth experienced a revival this year thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. Celebrated on June 19th, the holiday recognizes the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in all 50 states following the end of the Civil War. Though it is still not officially considered a federal holiday, companies throughout the country stepped up this year to declare their own recognition of the day, planning educational programming for staff or giving them the day off to celebrate in whatever way they saw fit.
Companies take a stance
Speaking of companies making their stances known, the days of simply releasing a statement to avoid controversy are long over, and the events of the past few months have amplified that fact. Companies, celebrities and organizations have been held accountable as never before, and the highly visible world of social media only makes it that much harder for them to shy away from taking a direct stance on the issues at hand.
Some companies have shown sincere solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movements, such as Reddit, whose co-founder Alexis Ohanian recently resigned via a video urging the board to fill his seat with a black candidate. Ohanian called the decision “long overdue, saying that he is “doing this as a father, who needs to be able to look in the eyes of his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?” Ohanian also pledged $1 million to Colin Kaepernick’s Know your Rights Camp in the announcement.
Indeed, companies that have been releasing statements in support of the BLM movement that have a history of racially discriminatory practices, or an all-white staff, are being admonished on social media by those who are taking the time to research the validity of their statements. Popular culinary magazine Bon Appétit is currently facing allegations about unfair workplace practices and the alleged racist actions of multiple staff members, including former editor in chief Adam Rappaport, who announced in June that he would be stepping down “to reflect on the work that I need to do as a human being and to allow Bon Appétit to get to a better place.” Rappaport was widely criticised after a photo resurfaced of him in brownface at a 2013 Halloween party.
Tech companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google have even updated their smart voice assistants, which now explain the Black Lives Matter movement when asked “Do black lives matter?” and also provide updated responses to “Do all lives matter?”
“Hey Google, do black lives matter?” “Black lives matter,” it responds. “Black people deserve the same freedoms afforded to everyone in this country, and recognizing the injustice they face is the step towards fixing it.”
The shooting of Jacob Blake made an impact on professional sports
On Sunday, August 23, a 29-year-old Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin named Jacob Blake was shot seven times by police while getting into an SUV with his three sons. The shots have left Blake paralyzed, but he remains in stable condition. As news of the shooting spread, hundreds gathered to protest, at times becoming violent, and on Tuesday night a 17-year-old white male named Kyle Rittenhouse took the lives of two protestors, injuring a third.
Following the shooting of Blake, athletes across the professional sporting world also stood with the Black Lives Matter movement, holding an unprecedented strike and refusing to play their regularly scheduled games last Wednesday. These actions were first spurred by the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks, but quickly spread from the basketball courts to baseball diamonds to soccer fields across the country.
“Until we continue to demand it, until ‘Black Lives Matter’ goes from just an idea or a goal that we’re trying to attain as a society and is actually realized in the streets, we won’t see any peace,” said Malcolm Jenkins of the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints. “And I think we’ll continue to see athletes, entertainers as well as citizens disrupt the status quo until that’s recognized.”