Story at a glance
- Today marks the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer.
- Floyd’s death has spurred a nationwide discussion around police reform.
- Lawmakers are currently working on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which has already passed through the House.
Today marks one year since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed at the hands of former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin. When the traumatic incident, which was captured by a civilian on their smartphone camera, was released to the world — what followed nobody could have predicted.
In the year since Floyd’s murder, the Black Lives Matter movement and a debate surrounding widespread police reform caught fire around the nation, angering and invigorating activists to take to the streets and have their voices heard. Meanwhile, Chauvin has since stood trial for the murder of Floyd and was found guilty of all three charges he faced: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin’s guilty verdict was a significant one due to its rarity, as police officers are often found faultless in the eyes of the criminal justice system when it comes to misconduct that sees a Black person on the other end of a gun. For many the verdict was seen as a triumph, but many are still left wondering what comes next.
"It has been a long year," Bridgett, Floyd's sister, told gatherers Sunday as reported by The Associated Press. "It has been a painful year. It has been very frustrating for me and my family for our lives to change in the blink of an eye — I still don't know why."
Policing in transition
President Biden is set to host Floyd’s family at the White House today to mark the one-year anniversary of his death — a visit that comes as lawmakers are likely to miss the President’s initial May 25 deadline for passing a bipartisan police reform bill.
Negotiators on both sides of the aisle have worked for weeks to tweak the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in attempts to win the Republican support that it will need to get through the Senate. If successful, policing tactics such as chokeholds and carotid holds would come to an end, police training would be improved and the qualified immunity which typically protects police officers from civil lawsuits would be curbed.
Meanwhile, most of the progress seen on police reform over the last year has been seen at the local level. In Austin, Texas, the city council cut the police department by a third last summer despite Republican pushback, and similar cuts took place in Seattle. In Baltimore and Los Angeles, funds were reallocated from police departments to other parts of their cities’ budgets to try and address systemic police violence.
In Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis, deep divides still remain alongside many of the racial inequities that were highlighted during last year’s protests. This spring when police shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center swiftly passed a suite of police reforms, and yet the larger city has yet to implement anything more substantial and its police department has found itself in crisis and woefully understaffed.
Since Floyd’s killing a year ago, more than 200 Minneapolis police officers, a third of the force, have either resigned or sought to leave the department, and the city has since been marked by a pronounced increase in crime and a fractured relationship between the police and city residents. Likely to find itself on the ballot in November is a proposal to replace the police department with a public safety agency. In other cities around the country, crime rates have also skyrocketed.
“We’ve lost more than a decade of progress,” Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department said in an interview, referring to the significant drops in crime in the years before the pandemic.
“I won’t argue that there is substandard housing, education, broken families, substance abuse, the systems that are racist and have systemic issues that have gone on for generations,” he said, when asked about the demands of protesters. “But the fix of that is not to eliminate policing.”
Advocates for finding alternate solutions to beefing back up police departments urge officials to realize that progress will take time.
“A year later, I feel there has been change,” Helen Jones, an organizer for Dignity and Power Now, tells The New York Times. Jones lost her son in the custody of sheriff’s deputies, has since won a $2 million civil settlement, and is now pushing for criminal charges. She says, aside from policy wins and losses, that the last year in America has at least shifted the debate.
“The change I see is people’s minds being awakened to how Black and brown people have been treated, and to their trauma. And this disregard for human life that Black and brown people experience. A lot of eyes have been opened.”
A shift in public support
Jones is right — experts say that over the past year they have found a sizable jump in American’s support for the BLM movement, and reported increases have suggested that Americans have begun to prioritize race and racism more, even in places where they were once silent, such as in the office.
Indeed, corporations around the country both pledged their support for BLM and condemned police killings last year as protestors took to the streets. One year later things have quieted, but a new study has shown that the racial justice movement is still making its way through cubicles into the C-suite.
According to a recent survey from diversity, equity and inclusion strategy firm Paradigm and the Harris Poll, two-thirds of Americans say they want their companies to speak out publicly against racial injustice, and a majority of those surveyed said they would hold their employers accountable if they failed to do so, particularly workers 45 or younger. Over half said they would even consider quitting if their employer did not take a stand.
"I think we’re increasingly seeing employees expect more from their companies on a range of social impact themes," Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, told USA TODAY. "People are recognizing the role that organizations have on the communities and world around them, and a lot of people want to work for a company that is using that influence to drive positive impact."
Employees have begun to stand up for social justice, especially in the technology sector, where staff members from places like Google and Amazon are raising their voices on the issues of diversity and inclusion. One tech activist taking their newly found activism to the next level is Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest public policy manager, who is pushing legislation in California called the “Silenced No More Act.”
If passed, the act would protect workers from harmfully binding nondisclosure agreements in cases where they are facing discrimination.
“Change inside companies cannot only come from the hope that executives will have a momentary change of heart,” said Ozoma. “As more companies are called out on a year of next to no action, after spending money on marketing campaigns pretending that they care about Black lives and Black employees, I’d expect to see more workers eager to use an inside and outside approach.’
There’s still much work to be done
Despite what has seemed like a catalyst year, only seventeen percent of Americans actually believe race relations are better today than they were a year ago, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. This suggests that while some ugly truths bubbled up to the surface since the death of George Floyd, it will take prolonged awareness and action to see those wrongs become right.
According to experts, one issue at hand is the fact that Black and white Americans continue to maintain drastically different views on important topics such as policing and police reform. According to the poll, a majority of Black Americans agree with President Biden that the issue of white supremacy is the “most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today,” while only 41 percent of white Americans said the same. Black Americans were also more likely than white respondents to favor reforming current policies guiding the use of force by police.
Floyd’s murder sparked a reinvigoration of the conversation around some of the toughest topics that can divide the nation, from the country’s criminal justice system to policing. Regardless of the amount of work still to be done, Rev. Al Sharpton wants people to know that Floyd “is not going in history as a martyr,” he said while delivering the keynote speech at Floyd’s anniversary rally.
"He's going in history as a game changer. When you went down on his neck, you broke the neck of police misconduct in this country,” says Sharpton.
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