George Floyd Was Alive a Year Ago Yesterday
A year ago, a 46-year-old Minnesota resident was talking about finding a job. The COVID-19 pandemic was raging. The U.S. financial picture was bleak. And, like thousands of other Americans, the sometime rapper, club bouncer, and former high school athlete was an economic casualty, having lost his gig working club security at a local Minneapolis establishment. He had a girlfriend. He had children. He had siblings. And he had friends all over the country who cherished “Perry Jr.” or “Big Floyd” or “Big George,” as the six-foot-four, deep-voiced, Black man was known in different circles.
His life journey hadn’t been especially extraordinary or notable. But George Perry Floyd Jr., was a man who loved and who was loved. He was a human being. Simply, he had a life.
A year ago today, he was murdered by a Minneapolis Police Department officer named Derek Chauvin, who, through his revulsive actions that day, essentially deemed that whatever life George Floyd might’ve had—up until the moment that their paths crossed and a confrontation ensued—didn’t have value, didn’t matter, wasn’t worth protecting. Another person also crossed paths with Floyd and Chauvin. Her name was Darnella Frazier, a teenage onlooker who happened to be nearby. Courageously and unflinchingly, she captured the roughly 10-minute incident on her cell phone while standing on a Minneapolis sidewalk outside of Cup Foods, a corner grocery, along with a group of other bystanders who pleaded for Floyd’s life, asking Chauvin—and his fellow officers who had detained Floyd on suspicion of having passed a fake $20 bill in the convenience store—to stop, to have Chauvin remove the knee he continued to press down on Floyd’s neck.
As I write this, I have been watching news reports all morning about the May 2019 death of Ronald Greene at the hands of Louisiana State Police officers. The commentators are going on and on, discussing and analyzing a two-year-old killing as they sit in bright, air-conditioned studios many miles from outside Monroe, Louisiana, where Greene died. In fact, it has taken two years for police body camera footage of Greene’s arrest to be released to the public. And still, the 49-year-old man’s pleas for mercy, his desperate apologies for leading the officers on a car chase, and his reassurances that “I’m your brother,” and “I’m scared! I’m scared!” could easily have been said in Minneapolis. On any day. In any year. Floyd himself begged for mercy, as did untold scores of other men and women of color, recently bowed before law enforcement agents.
In the year since George Floyd’s murder—and we can now officially call it murder, given Chauvin’s guilty verdict on April 20—one couldn’t be faulted for believing that “things have changed,” that “this time is different.” Indeed, maybe they have. But I’m not willingly conceding that. If the change has come, it’s not at a pace demanded or deserved by those of us who’ve been strategically disenfranchised, dehumanized, and diminished by America in a multitude of ways.
True, Chauvin’s jury trial and conviction on multiple counts of murder was a rarity. Only about 1.1% of police officers who kill civilians are charged with murder or manslaughter, per The New York Times. Derek Chauvin is believed to have been one of the few to ever have been charged—and convicted. What’s more, in the year since the murder, America has seen a surge in philanthropic and individual giving to causes that align with those of Black Lives Matter—the movement for racial justice that was initially focused on policing and criminal justice reform. Shelves of books about race and ethnicity, social inequity, and historical injustice have been elevated on best-seller lists. Entertainment streaming platforms even created special channels encompassing a range of Black-centered television shows, movies, and documentaries.
The complexion of frontline activism also changed dramatically. The overwhelming majority of demonstrations and marches in the wake of Floyd’s death as well as those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and, more recently, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo, among many others, were noticeably multiracial, multiethnic, and multigenerational, unlike many prior instances of civil disobedience tied to calls for racial justice and accountability. It felt as if America all of a sudden had realized that race did matter, that people of color had been telling the truth about the systemic violence they’d faced, for generations, due to the color of their skin. Surreally, those realizations seemed to come with a form of performative empathy whereby woke folks, most of whom were well-intentioned allies, consistently insisted on their commitment to change, sometimes as loudly and visibly as possible.
But that was only half of the story since progress in regard to racial justice rarely happens in a straight line. Because the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has still not been voted on. Because recent opinion polls show that only 36% of Americans believed that what happened to George Floyd was murder ahead of Derek Chauvin’s trial this past March versus 60% last June. (Since the trial’s conclusion in April, 75% of American adults agree with the guilty verdict, but still about half of Republicans and supporters of former President Donald Trump disagree or remain undecided.) Because a majority of White Americans still don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement—though that support did peak at 43% in the days after George Floyd’s death. Because with every passing week, the television anchors and pontificators sit at their desks or in front of another wall of flowers and wreathes and tell us that maybe “this time is different,” that “things have changed” when yet another Black, Latino, Asian, or Native man or woman is killed, before reciting a warning that the images a viewer is about to see are “disturbing.”
Published at Tue, 25 May 2021 09:55:00 +0000