The Killing of George Floyd and What It Sparked
On May 25, George Floyd, a 46 years old African American man, was killed by the police officer Derek Chauvin because of the use of excessive force on Floyd’s neck during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The next day, a 10-minute recording by a bystander and the security camera footage has gained attention from the public and were shared widely on social media. The videos showed how the police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-eight seconds while he was handcuffed, ignoring his pleas and words “I can’t breathe” while the three other officers looked on, and on the very same day, people of all races started protesting in Minneapolis, demanding justice for George Floyd.
The protests spread all across the United States in a short amount of time, even across continents: there were protests in Europe, Asia, and Oceania. People demonstrated the state Floyd was in, lying on their stomach, hands on their backs, stood still for 8 minutes and 48 seconds occasionally saying “I can’t breathe”; they carried signs and shouted their slogans: “Black Lives Matter”.
The police brutality towards black people nor the Black Lives Matter is nothing new, the movement began in 2013 when the court did not hold any charges for the officer who fatally shot an African American teen (1), and the organization has been an advocate against police violence ever since. Black people have received unfair treatment from the state even longer. If that is the case, why did the killing of George Floyd cause people to react at a time when there is a contagious and deadly virus is taking the lives of millions of people?
There are few things to take in into account and how Covid-19 affected black people compared to their white counterparts is an important one. Already being at a disadvantaged position in receiving health services and finding jobs, the virus caused them to become even more vulnerable. In this kind of environment, everyone stuck in their home in quarantine most of them losing their jobs, watching a 10-minute video of an unarmed man begging for his life at the mercy of a police officer made others “feel things”. Compared to reading what happened or hearing about this, watching this graphic video made people feel disturbed, angry, and exhausted.
A similar concurrent event that was also shared on social media, the video of a white woman, Amy Cooper threatening the black man, Christian Cooper, to call the police on him for doing nothing but expecting her to obey the park rules. Mr. Cooper recorded their interaction and the women calling 911 and reporting him, “An African American man is threatening my life and my dog.” Central Park birdwatching incident received a great amount of response, regarding the fact that a white woman was aware of her privilege, and she did not hesitate to use it. She was aware that how the police, as an institution, perceives black people; and she was also aware of black people’s perception of police. She used police as a weapon, a threat to the black man’s life, as she knew what was going to happen if the police were to come to the park. Likewise to the video of the killing of George Floyd, it stirred anger inside people’s hearts. While these incidents were recorded and shared bloating everyone’s timelines, the fact that there were little distractions because of a pandemic, contributed greatly to the response.
Police officers have been disproportionally killing, arresting, and using force on black people for so many years, every year data proving the experience of people. In the city of Minneapolis in which Floyd was killed, black people make up 19% of its population and 9% of its police officers, while they are on the receiving end of 58% of the city’s police use-of-for incidents. (2) These events do not take place because every police officer is racist or biased, however, they are also no coincidence. These are the consequence of many policies, one being the “redlining” of the cities in the 1930s. Initially creating maps that would label neighborhoods to help investors decide where to do business, redlining segregated, and discriminated cities. While prominently black, Latino, and immigrant populated neighborhoods were marked as “hazardous”, the maps became self-fulfilling prophecies. These communities deprived of investment, the value of their properties dropped, therefore resulting in low property taxes which is how public schools are funded in the US. Low budget those schools meant poor educational conditions which directly correlates to the low college acceptance and high unemployment rates in those communities; widening the wealth gap.
Redlining the cities also affected the policing. In the neighborhoods that were labeled as hazardous, there were many more police present compared to those of “desirable and low-risk”. More police patrolling the streets means citizens are more likely to have an encounter with the police, resulting in more arrests, pullovers, and use-of-force incidents. Even though Fair Housing Act was introduced in 1968, prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and housing based race, religion, sex, disability, or nationality; the aftermath of redlining is too much to be reversed fifty years, and still seen.
The problem is not just the police, criminal justice system, corporations nor people alone, but all of them collectively, as they are people create a much bigger problem named systematic and/or structural racism. It does not imply that all of the institutions or people are biased, systemic racism will last even in the opposite scenario. The problem with the systemic racism is that even if there are no bad actors, explicitly or implicitly applying these biases and prejudices, the racism perpetuates itself without the role of any individuals. It needs structural upheavals and breaking of a cycle. And that is what the protestors are demanding, although fighting for it is risking their health for more than 30 continuous days.
by Ece HASGÜL