“I can’t breathe,” George Floyd rasped for eight minutes, as policeman Derek Chauvin continued to press his knee into Floyd’s neck. Floyd had been arrested for allegedly using a fake $20 bill.
After Floyd resisted going into a police car, Chauvin pinned him down and suffocated him, with the help of three other policemen. Floyd was soon pronounced dead.
Bystanders had recorded a video of the incident — a handcuffed, unarmed black man being killed by white police. The video soon spread across the internet, horrifying the public. Protests have erupted across the country, some turning violent, as Americans grapple with another racially charged killing.
Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. However, Floyd’s death is not an isolated occurrence.
A Fatal Trend
The death of George Floyd almost mirrors the death of Eric Garner in 2014. Garner's last words were also “I can’t breathe” and became a slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement -- an organization against police brutality that was formed in 2013.
Black Lives Matter has confronted a series of racially charged deaths. In 2020, the organization raised awareness for Ahmaud Arbery, hunted and killed by white civilians, and Breonna Taylor, shot eight times by police when they forcibly entered her home at 1 am. Both were unarmed. Both were black. Both inspired public horror and fury.
Police brutality is rooted in the very beginnings of the police in the 1830s. African Americans would be targeted and brutalized if they were accused of anything by a white person (even if the accusations were made up). In 1927 Chicago, black Americans made up 5 percent of the population, but 30 percent of the victims of police killings. After about 100 years, it has not gotten much better. African Americans are three times as likely as white people to be killed by policemen. Ninety-nine percent of those policemen have not been charged with a crime.
Protests Erupt Across America
The killing of George Floyd had been met with public uproar with protests across the country. Social media is flooded with #blacklivesmatter posts and musings about how to combat racism.
In the beginning, most protests were peaceful. They then transitioned into violence, as some people shattered window glass, looted stores, and set fires. Police have met this violence with full firepower. Dressed in riot gear, they have fired rubber bullets and used tear gas against crowds of protestors. In Minnesota, the governor has activated the whole National Guard.
The arrest of Derek Chauvin did not suffice for the outraged public. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder (the lowest of all murder charges) — protestors want it to be first degree. The other officers have been fired, but have not been charged — protestors want them arrested too. But the most difficult of the protestors’ demands is the broadest — the end of police brutality, and racial justice.
For the protestors’ last demand to be realized, all of society will need to change. Individuals can donate to racial justice organizations like the Minnesota Freedom Fund, or the Black Visions Collective. They can get involved in local organizations, and go to protests (if they are safe). Politicians must not only condemn the police officers who killed Floyd but also change police policy, increasing accountability. Chauvin’s arrest is in the right direction, but much more will need to be done.
Source: NYTimes, CNN, NBC, KQED, ACLU, mappingviolence.org