It’s been one year since the murder of George Floyd. One year since the desperate gasp of a dying man was heard ’round the world, and galvanized the horror of a nation fast asleep on racial progress. One year since former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd for an unimaginably long amount of time as the man beneath his hold begged and pleaded to breathe, as his fellow officers looked on dispassionately and citizen onlookers pled with the officers to stop.
2020 saw turmoil and upheaval as America woke to the horrors of police brutality against Black Americans and People of Color; but what has really changed? With last year’s impassioned marches, cries of “Black Lives Matter,” and promises for a better tomorrow, what has been done to make that tomorrow a reality? CELEB takes a look at what has happened since the death of George Floyd and what kind of progress the police have made in reforming a system desperately in need of fixing.
A Timeline of the George Floyd Effect
In order to assess what has changed and what hasn’t, it’s important to take a look back at the events following Floyd’s murder, per Yahoo!:
- May 25, 2020: In Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd is killed by Derek Chauvin as Chauvin kneels on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds (originally believed to be less than 9 minutes). The interaction was sparked by a call to police that Floyd had used counterfeit money. According to a police report, Floyd resisted arrest which prompted Chauvin to get Floyd in a dangerous, non-procedure, and ultimately fatal hold with his knee placed on Floyd’s neck, pinning him down. It should be noted that nearby surveillance footage did not corroborate the officer’s assertion that Floyd violently resisted arrest. The interaction and ultimately Floyd’s death were filmed by onlooker Darnella Frazier, a teenager who then uploaded the video to the internet.
- May 26, 2020: with a night for Frazier’s video to circulate, outrage exploded online and protesters began to arrive in Minneapolis to demand justice for Floyd. Within 24 hours, protests had cropped up in almost every major city, including Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and more.
- May 29, 2020: Derek Chauvin is arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
- June 2020: at this point, Floyd’s death was conclusively labeled a homicide. The other three officers at the scene of Floyd’s murder, Ofcs Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are charged with aiding and abetting, and Chauvin receives an additional charge of second-degree murder. June, usually reserved for Pride month celebrations and Juneteenth remembrances, turned into a somber and furious time as Pride parades around the country focused on justice and police brutality, and more protests and vigils for Floyd sprung up across the country.
- June 5, 2020: On what would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday, activists in support of the Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality movements were once again energized to pick up the fight and her name was added as a rallying cry. Taylor was killed after police shot into her apartment. The strike team at her apartment was at the wrong place, targeting the wrong people, and Taylor died in her home before she could be transferred to a hospital. Taylor was killed March 13, 2020. On June 8, Democrats in Congress introduce a police reform bill and Floyd is laid to rest June 9. Also in June of 2020, New York finally banned chokeholds by police operating in the state; Eric Garner was killed in a manner eerily similar to Floyd by New York police performing an illegal chokehold in 2014.
- July through November: For the next few months, protests continue to rage in cities. To some, they were riots and crimes of opportunity. To Black America and their allies, they were the language of the unheard; intense, emotional, but peaceful. While several protests were disrupted by instigators and violence, the vast majority of the protests did stay peaceful. COVID spikes forced protests in many cities to limit their gatherings as Fall waxed and the hot summer months waned.
- November 2020: America’s first Black female Vice President was elected and the Black Lives Matter movement held their breath in hope that they would have an ally. But Vice President Kamala Harris was a tricky bet for activists; after all, she had been a prosecutor early in her career.
- March 2021: The House approves the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and Chauvin’s trial begins March 22.
April 2021: as the trial continued for Chauvin, another white police officer – Kim Potter – shoots and kills 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Protests arise again immediately. April 22, Chauvin is found guilty of all three counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
What Hasn’t Improved Since Floyd’s Murder?
It’s been a tumultuous 365 days since Floyd was killed. While the very fabric of America may have forever changed as citizens awoke to the horror of police brutality and began demanding accountability of their protectors, some things have not changed. Since Floyd was murdered, as of April 2021, 181 Black people have been killed by police. Between the start of Chauvin’s trial on March 22 and April 18, 64 people were killed by police. Over half of those were People of Color.
While it’s clear that justice for Floyd could not have been sought without Frazier’s video, many police precincts around the country are nervous about citizens weaponizing recordings against them. In Florida, one woman was arrested for filming officers as they arrested her son outside of a movie theater. The mother and her son are Black, and she recorded out of concern for her son’s safety. A court case upheld the woman’s arrest, claiming she obstructed the officers’ ability to do their job, and that the arrest was legal. One judge overseeing the case blasted the choice to uphold her arrest, claiming that it was dangerous precedent to suggest that people could be arrested for recording, including innocent bystanders. The judge added in her dissent that the mom did nothing wrong and police officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public.
NPR shares the insight of Cheryl Corley, a reporter covering police reform: “And there have been changes. The state of New York banned the use of chokeholds in the aftermath of the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd. Both repeatedly cried out they couldn’t breathe when restrained by police. In Chicago and elsewhere, training directives say an officer must intervene when there’s misconduct by a colleague. The body camera video is to be the witness, but the Department of Justice says only about half the law enforcement agencies in the country have the technology. Arizona State University Professor Michael White helps run the DOJ’s training program for body-worn cameras. He says agencies without cameras often cite cost as a barrier.”
Has Anything Gotten Better?
While there has been moderate progress from precinct to precinct in tackling reform, systemic racism in policing remains an ongoing and urgent problem. Across the country, some of the precincts most guilty of bias in policing are refusing to acknowledge their duty to reform, while those already doing their best to serve their citizens are continuing to improve.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, which bore the brunt of the anger in the wake of Floyd’s murder and was one of the sites that frequently turned violent, the police response to a furious citizenry has been stuttered and stunted. Shootings are occurring regularly, with harried citizens wondering which angry group will boil over next in the embattled city; police or protesters. City council members have frequently threatened to disband the police force in the city and frustrated activists have called their bluff, suggesting that they’re not doing enough to keep the city safe as is.
But there is some hope. Chauvin’s conviction was nearly unprecedented and could signal to other police that they cannot act with impunity in the future. And in cities both big and small across the country, reform measures are being passed and implemented as police departments grapple with the reality that some things need to change.
Just in Policing
On the federal level, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is close to being signed into law. Per the Congressional database, “This bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability. It increases accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements.
The bill enhances existing enforcement mechanisms to remedy violations by law enforcement. Among other things, it does the following:
- lowers the criminal intent standard—from willful to knowing or reckless—to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution,
- limits qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, and
- grants administrative subpoena power to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in pattern-or-practice investigations.”
The Act also tackles racial profiling and establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry, with updated requirements for reporting misconduct for an officer and a way to compile proof of officer misconduct including reports and video footage. It also sets up a system for the Department of Justice to establish accreditation for police programs around the country and equalizes requirements for officers.
While the Act is just one step on the path towards a more equal justice system and police oversight, it’s the first real Federal effort to address police brutality and systemic racism. The bill should be signed a few weeks from now, and in the meantime supporters of Floyd and his family will meet to remember him. The issue of police brutality won’t be solved in a week, and it won’t be solved either on the streets or in the halls of government alone. It takes a concerted effort among police to focus on equally serving the citizens they swear to protect, and a system of laws that hold them accountable when they fail to live up to those ideals. In the year since Floyd’s murder, few things have changed, but the ones that have may just be enough to keep hope alive for tomorrow.