The tragic death of George Floyd has struck the world, igniting protests worldwide and calling for an imperative revival of the Black Lives Matter movement. On May 29, Minneapolis released a 911 transcript of the call, in which a grocery clerk had called police describing a man paying with a counterfeit $20 bill in an inebriated state. According to the Minneapolis police, Floyd had matched the description. Shocking videos online show four police officers conducting the arrest, with one – a man named Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Chauvin pressed onto Floyd’s neck for eight and a half minutes, until Floyd was escorted into an ambulance after losing consciousness. Floyd later died in police custody. This widely-circulated image has since gone viral on the internet, birthing numerous hashtags demanding justice for Floyd.
On May 30, several protests broke out in Minneapolis, sparking even more across the U.S. Fueled in outrage, many protesters have defined the riots as symbolic of generations of suffering endured by the black community. Several activists define these events as pivotal for the Black Lives Matter movement, a campaign that emerged in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. The movement was launched as a campaign against police brutality against the black community, and has since evolved to bring attention to wider issues such as racial profiling and racial inequality in the U.S.
All officers responsible for the arrest of Floyd have since been fired. Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, was subsequently arrested and charged with third degree murder on Friday, May 29th. If convicted with murder, Chauvin will face over twelve years in prison. However, it should be noted that third-degree murder in Minnesota is defined as ‘death caused without intent to kill,’ which many have argued is visibly not the case as captured on video.
Numerous protesters have consistently stressed the need for accountability in the policing system. Many are advocating for a complete restructuring of the justice system and the relationship between citizens and the law enforcement system. The death of Floyd has sparked protests across other U.S. cities – such as New York City, Los Angeles, and downtown Denver. Thousands have since joined global protests, including cities Toronto and Berlin, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Moreover, police across the U.S. and law enforcement experts have widely condemned the knee restraint on Floyd, emphasizing that such action was completely unnecessary. The video shows Floyd graveling in pain and pleading for his life by repeatedly uttering the words, “I can’t breathe.” Several bystanders of the incident had also requested for Floyd to be released from the restraint. Such requests were left ignored by the police.
“He wasn’t actively resisting, and he was saying he couldn’t breathe,” said Charles P. Stephenson, a former police officer and FBI agent. “You have to understand that possibility is there [that Floyd couldn’t breathe], and you release any kind of restriction you might have on an airway immediately.”
Due to these facts, the arrest and subsequent death of Floyd has been widely condemned by police and law enforcement officials across the U.S. Many have called for the increased accountability of police officers. According to experts, police recruits are taught a range of use-of-force techniques, but taught that such defense is to be used in a manner that “may equal but does not exceed the physical resistance by a suspect.”
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, has stated that “No police academy that we know of teaches a police officer to use their knee, to put it on their neck. That’s just not taught because that can impact their breathing and their carotid artery. So when police look at that video, they are shocked that those tactics were used.”
The FBI in Minneapolis, as well as the U.S. attorney’s office is reportedly conducting a “robust criminal investigation” into the case. Moreover, Amnesty International has advocated for an end to militarized response to protests by U.S. police. The human rights group has emphasized that police must stop failing their duties under international law and permit the right to peaceful protest.
The responsibility of the police force and law enforcement is to uphold the law, defuse dangerous situations and resist excessive force. Both systems continue to fail the black community tirelessly. Activists have noted that police have been killing the black community for generations, that the depth of this situation is coming to light now due to our advanced technology and internet use. It is evident that the structural forces that allow for the killing of innocent black people must be transformed, for the better. It is easy to lose sight of the movement’s message amidst the outrage, riot, and chaos. During these times, we must remember as Martin Luther King Jr. explained it, that in essence, “Riot is the language of the unheard.” Above all, we must remember the message of these protests are pure and simple: The systematic killing of black people in America must end.