On May 25th, an African American man by the name of George Floyd died in Minneapolis from injuries sustained while in police custody. The same day, videos of Floyd’s murder spread across the internet and social media, causing mass unrest amongst the American public at the flagrant disregard for Floyd’s life. The video revealed that the arresting Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Floyd’s neck for approximately 8 minutes. All the while, Floyd continually communicated his inability to breathe and begged for his mother in his dying moments. George Floyd is yet another victim of the systematic racism and institutionalized oppression found in America, allowing for the unlawful murder of Black citizens by American police officers.
George Floyd’s death was reminiscent of the prior case of Eric Garner, who was killed in NYPD custody in 2014 due to injuries sustained from police brutality. In both cases, video evidence emerged, proving that any sort of deadly force was unwarranted and completely unjustified. Despite the public unrest in the case of Eric Garner, the officers involved in his death escaped indictment and were not fired from the NYPD for another five years.
Anti-Discrimination and Civil Rights activists called for Floyd’s death to not be forgotten as yet another Black victim of police brutality. Instead, protests mobilized to ensure the officers involved in Floyd’s death would not escape indictment as in the case of Eric Garner and to demand systemic change to end future racial discrimination and police brutality.
However, while the majority of protests remain peaceful, a nationwide increase in violence, arson, and looting has caused further ideological division. In Minneapolis, a small group of violent protesters burned the police station and looted multiple businesses in the area. In New York, a protester from the Catskills threw a molotov cocktail at NYPD officers, endangering not only the officers’ lives but also those of other protesters. According to the New York Times, over 75 cities across the world have witnessed protests related to George Floyd. Although the majority of demonstrations remain peaceful, they continued to be overshadowed by a violent minority.
Multiple activist groups and the international community have spoken out against the violence as undermining the message of the protests. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged “protesters to express their demands for justice peacefully,” with Bachelet adding that it is necessary for “the police to take utmost care not inflame the current situation even more with any further use of excessive force.” The relatively small presence of violent protests has begun to overwhelm the American media, pulling the reputation of the protests away from peaceful demands for change towards vengeful violence.
The family of George Floyd and other countless African American families that have suffered from police abuse have felt tremendous pain. However, the answer is not to project the same pain outwards onto others. Although the protestors that rely on violence do not represent the majority of the movement, their presence has stolen the media’s attention. The relatively few acts of violence tend to take the media’s spotlight and undermines the protests’ foundations of peace, hope, and change. Rather than have the media’s coverage focused on spreading awareness of police brutality and promoting options for sensible reform, violence instead turns its attention to fear-mongering.
The more the George Floyd protests are associated with violence, the more likely it is for the public to become disenfranchised from supporting it. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.”