DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD REIGNITED A MOVEMENT. WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
A moment of collective grief and anger gives way to a year-long deliberation on what it means to be Black in America, with long-lasting impact
GFor many Black Americans, real change feels elusive, given how relentlessly the killing of Black men by the police has continued.
eorge Floyd had been dead only hours before the movement began. Driven by a terrifying video and word-of-mouth, people flooded the South Minneapolis intersection where he was killed shortly after Memorial Day, demanding an end to police violence against Black Americans.
The moment of collective grief and anger swiftly gave way to a yearlong, nationwide deliberation on what it means to be Black in America.
First came protests across the nation, becoming the largest mass protest movement in US history. Then, over the next several months, nearly 170 Confederate symbols were renamed or removed from public spaces. The Black Lives Matter slogan was claimed by a nation grappling with Floyd’s death.
Over the next 11 months, calls for racial justice would touch seemingly every aspect of American life on a scale that historians say had not happened since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who knelt on Floyd, was convicted of two counts of murder as well as manslaughter. The verdict brought some solace to activists for racial justice who had been riveted to the courtroom drama for the past several weeks.
But for many Black Americans, real change feels elusive, particularly given how relentlessly the killing of Black men by the police has continued.
Protecting the police
There are also signs of backlash: Legislation that would reduce voting access, protect the police and effectively criminalise public protests has sprung up in Republican-controlled state legislatures. The entire arc of the Floyd case — from his death and the protests through the trial and conviction of Chauvin played out against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which further focused attention on the nation’s racial inequities: People of color were among those hardest hit by the virus and by the economic dislocation that followed.
And for many, Floyd’s death carried the weight of other episodes of police violence over the past decade, a list that includes the deaths of Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor.
In the months after Floyd’s death, some change has been concrete. Scores of policing reform laws were introduced at the state level. Corporations pledged billions to racial equity causes, and the NFL apologised for its failure to support protests against police violence by its Black players. Even the backlash was different. Racist statements by dozens of public officials, from mayors to fire chiefs, related to Floyd’s death - perhaps tolerated before — cost them their jobs and sent others to anti-racism training. And Americans, and white Americans in particular, became much more likely than in recent years to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Not an isolated episode
Floyd’s death, most Americans agreed early last summer, was part of a broader pattern - not an isolated episode. But the shift proved fleeting for Republicans — both elected leaders and voters. As some protests turned destructive and as Donald Trump’s reelection campaign began using those scenes in political ads, polls showed white Republicans retreating in their views that discrimination is a problem. Increasingly in the campaign, voters were given a choice: They could stand for racial equity or with law-and-order. Republican officials once vocal about Floyd fell silent.
“If you were on the Republican side, which is really the Trump side of this equation, then the message became, ‘No we can’t acknowledge that was appalling because we will lose ground,’” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. Floyd’s death did, however, drive some changes among non-Republican white Americans in their awareness of racial inequality and support for reforms.
“The year 2020 is going to go down in our history books as a very significant, very catalytic time,” said David Bailey, whose
Virginia-based nonprofit, Arrabon, helps churches around the country do racial reconciliation work. “People’s attitudes have changed at some level. We don’t know fully all of what that means. But I am hopeful I am seeing something different.”
But even among Democratic leaders, including mayors and President Joe Biden, dismay over police violence has often been paired with warnings that protesters avoid violence too. That association — linking Black political anger and
violence — is deeply rooted in America and has not been broken in the past year, said Davin Phoenix, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “Before Black people even get a chance to process their feelings of trauma and grief, they’re being told by people they elected to the White House ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that,’” Phoenix said. “I would love if more politicians turn to the police and say, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’”