To say these have been a rough couple of weeks would be drastically understating matters.
Once again here in America (and also the world) we witnessed the killing of another Black person at the hands of the police. This time, his name was George Floyd and he was handcuffed faced down on the pavement with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and screamed for his mother. His last moments were captured on video by a bystander via their cellphone and within a day, that video spread around the world. George Floyd sadly joins a list that includes Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, of Black people killed by police or pseudo law enforcement, in just the last few months. However, their deaths have ignited a movement not seen in the United States in more than 50 years.
Many Americans have come away shocked at what they witnessed when George Floyd was killed. The sad truth is, for Black folks, being killed by police is not a new phenomenon, but rather that these killings are now being captured on cell phone video just adds a new element to the equation. Sadly, we’ve been down this road before just within the last few years.
In 2014 in Staten Island, New York, Eric Garner uttered the now infamous phrase “I can’t breathe” while being placed in a choke-hold by an NYPD officer. The officer in that case was acquitted of all wrong doing and was not let go from the police force until 2019.
In 2015 there was the case of Walter Scott in South Carolina whose death might still be the most horrifying act I’ve ever seen on video. Scott can be seen running away from a police officer when the officer squares up and shoots Scott in the back multiple times, killing him. The officer then drops a weapon near Scott’s body to make it look like he acted in self defense. The man who captured the video gave it to Scott’s family and the family waited three days to see if the officer would be charged. When he wasn’t, Scott’s family then handed the tape over to a local newspaper and it was only then upon the video being released, that the officer involved was charged in Walter Scott’s killing.
Protest in Englewood, NJ on May 30th
While the deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and also Sandra Bland, ignited media and protests, we didn’t see nearly the widespread movement we’re seeing today after the George Floyd video. I think what makes this situation unique is due to a confluence of events at play.
For starters, people have seen too many of these videos already and it’s only getting worse as these protests highlight more acts of wrongdoing by the police. In Brooklyn, we saw an NYPD officer violently push a woman to the curb which resulted in her slamming her head against the concrete and needing to briefly be hospitalized. In Minnesota, audiences of CNN literally witnessed one of their reporters being arrested during a live broadcast by the police, and later the police Twitter account lied about the reporter not showing their press credentials. And finally, there was the case in Buffalo, New York, just last week where two officers pushed a 75-year-old man to the ground which resulted in him cracking his skull open on the pavement.
You add those events with a president and administration that seems all to willing to label protesters terrorists, but yet turns a blind eye to the white supremacists and neo-nazis within their own ranks, and people see the hypocrisy right in front of their eyes.
Lastly, this is all happening in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in this country, left 40 million unemployed, and had a crushing blow on not just the economy, but the basic livelihood of millions of Americans. Due to stay-at-home orders, most Americans have been stuck in their homes for the last three months and are now itching to get out and protest. And the protests have been as frequent as they’ve been robust.
What’s surprised me this time around is not so much the frequency of the protests, but how widespread and diverse they’ve been. From places like Birmingham, Alabama to Boise, Idaho. From Philadelphia to Phoenix. Oakland, New York, Orlando, and even places in South Dakota and Montana have taken part in the protests. Much credit to the teenagers and young people who have really spearheaded a number of these movements in their cities.
The overarching question will be where does this all this ultimately lead? Well, we’re already beginning to see the effects the protests are having as Minneapolis pledged to defund the police. Confederate statues are being toppled across the country and even the notoriously buttoned up NFL released a statement last week pledging to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking of large corporations, I’ve also been surprised by the number of brands that have spoken out as well.
This moment truly does feel different. However, the question remains, will this just be another momentary footnote in history on racial justice? Or are people and companies ready to put their collective foot down and do the work for what is sure to be a protracted fight for justice here in America?