We’re three years on from the murder of George Floyd, and not enough has changed

Mural of George Floyd
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On 25 May 2020, a white police officer – Derek Chauvin – murdered unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis, US. Footage of the killing, in which Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd saying he couldn’t breathe, went viral worldwide.  A judge ultimately sentenced Chauvin to more than 22 years in prison.

However, the public response to the murder was about more than just accountability for a single man. There were widespread calls for police defunding and abolition, massive protests including those led by Black Lives Matter, and in some cases outbreaks of communal rage. These focused on the racist white culture of the US and Global North.

However, three years on, opinions on how much has really changed are somewhat dim.

American society has changed… a bit

Speaking to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Floyd’s aunt Angela Harrelson said that she believes public understanding of, and discourse on, systemic racism has progressed. She said:

The conversation is different. People are more open, especially white America, about talking about race relations

People always ask, ‘Do you think it’s getting better?’ Yes.

As an example, she pointed AFP to the prosecution of Chauvin and other officers involved in Floyd’s murder. She also said that the reforms carried out by Minneapolis to its police force and diversity programs now run at universities show how American society has changed.

Read on...

However, Harrelson was realistic about the rate and scale of such changes. She acknowledged that police killings will continue and that there is “more work to do” on systemic racism:

Twenty years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, the goal is not to hold a sign that says ‘Black Lives Matter.’ And until we can do that… that’s when we know we have arrived. That’s the goal.

The response petered out

Not everyone feels the same way as Harrelson, though. AFP spoke with Bethany Tamrat, who participated in the protests following Floyd’s murder.

Tamrat agreed that the popular response to Floyd’s murder initially created hope. However, she thought that didn’t translate into real-world changes:

In the moment, during 2020, it felt like there was a shift…. There was a lot of hopefulness… that there was going to be positive change

And I can confidently say three years after that, it was really a facade… It almost feels like we took five steps, only for us to lose 15 steps back.

The backlash against teaching Critical Race Theory is one example, Tamrat said. Florida governor Ron DeSantis passed one such bill. Far from defunding the police, on 15 May, DeSantis signed into law measures that would stop public money being spent on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public colleges and universities in the state.

Tamrat also said to AFP that racial bias remains embedded in legal systems and practices across the US. As a result:

I don’t think people are ready to make the change

‘Lives are at stake’

Jeanelle Austin echoed Tamrat’s sentiment. Austin is the co-founder and executive director of the George Floyd Global Memorial, which describes itself as a “living memorial that inspires all people to pursue justice”. It works with Floyd’s family, local communities, and people across the world.

Austin told AFP that people won’t change because:

we have a system and an industry in our country that requires Black people to be at the bottom.

Despite the calls for abolition, protests, and rioting, Austin said that the unwillingness of many people to really change meant that the spirit of 2020 ground to a halt. She said that after the protests and riots stopped, US society returned to normal, adding that:

business as usual is what caused harm.

She highlighted the police killing of Black man Tyre Nichols in January. Five Black police officers were involved in the Nichols’ death. However, rather than see it as a policing problem, Austin said people described it as “Black-on-Black crime”.

Such problems go beyond policing, she said. She point at problems with the media, education, and healthcare systems, adding that:

lives are at stake. People are dying.

Change begins at home

People worldwide reacted to Floyd’s murder. At first, it led to public conversations about white supremacist society and what people – especially white people – must do to fight it. One such solution for capitalist culture was the strengthening of diversity training in workspaces. However, as Tamrat and Austin outlined, this has done little to actually change the material conditions of Black people in the US and worldwide.

Tamrat told AFP that people are unwilling to make introspective changes to white behaviour and white culture:

[when you] really sit in with yourself and reflect on how you have contributed to racism, how you have these personal biases against certain communities, that takes harder work.

Tamrat suggested that people can start that hard work, though, by:

truly listening to the people that are affected.

Featured image via Loria Shaull/Flickr

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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  • Show Comments
    1. When an entire society is institutionally racist, no amount of introspection or attention to one’s own behaviour will have much effect on reforming what amounts to a racist, caste system in which

      “we have a system and an industry in our country (the US) that requires Black people to be at the bottom”.

      In the UK we have to oppose our own institutional racism and that starts with first recognising it exists. Yet many organisations, such as the police, may fail to acknowledge it in the first place.

      There is of course only one race, but people are racialised (regardless of colour) and then excluded from the dominant, influential or powerful stratum of society.

      Quite obviously, any grouping, regardless of external appearance, can be racialised and experience racism.

      In the UK, a faith group has been racialised (and ‘othered’) to inspire fear of immigration.

      We need to act as a society against existing racism but also recognise why racism comes about and understand what illegitimate function racialisation serves, in order to stop it in its tracks when it emerges again in new forms.

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