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.

For the past two weeks, protests have 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 has 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 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 two weeks 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," the 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 after 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 an FBI investigation after footage of the crime became public. Three days later, following heated protests and cries for action, former officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin, whose charges have been escalated to second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, had his first court appearance this week and his bail is set at $1.25 million without conditions or $1 million with conditions. 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 Kentucky home by officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department in March. 

Police reform is on the horizon

In just the past two weeks, change and reform have already started to make its way into police stations around the nation. Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Ky., 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 Taylor's death, Fischer 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 care and education.

Perhaps the most serious change has arrived in Minneapolis - the city where Floyd died. Last Friday, 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, over the weekend, 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 on 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 Wednesday.

"This work must be transformational, but I must do it right," 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 on Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to redirect some of the New York Police Department budget toward youth and social services. De Blasio, whose daughter was arrested during protests last week, also committed to repealing Section 50-A, which prevents the public from accessing disciplinary records of police officers.

Statues come down

The long-running debate over whether Confederate monuments are appropriate in public spaces has largely pivoted in the past week, a 180-degree shift from the events of Charlottesville, Va., just three years ago, when 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. Jacksonville, Fla., Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, announced Tuesday that a statue in Hemming Park had been removed - the first of the city's Confederate monuments that would be taken down.

"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, Ala., a Confederate monument that stands in a park was removed by residents, and in Bentonville, Ark., 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. 

In cities where the government was not taking action, protesters took matters into their own hands; in Richmond, Va., where the statue of Confederate Gen. Williams Carter Wickham, who owned slaves and a plantation, was toppled by people using a rope. Protesters in Montgomery, Ala., took down the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and in Bristol, United Kingdom, people tore down the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston before throwing it into the river.

"Moving this statue will not change the past," said Mobile, Ala., Mayor Sandy Stimpson after removing a bronze monument of Confederate Adm. 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."

Companies take a stance

The days of simply releasing a statement to avoid controversy are long over, and the events of the past two weeks 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.

Companies that are publicly supporting the movement but have a history of racially discriminatory practices, or an all-white staff, are being admonished on social media by people researching the validity of their statements. Popular culinary magazine Bon Appétit is currently facing numerous reports about unfair workplace practices and the racist actions of multiple staff members, including former editor in chief Adam Rappaport. He announced on Monday 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 criticized after a photo resurfaced of him in brownface at a 2013 Halloween party.

Tech companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google have 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."

Published on Jun 10, 2020