On May 25, a Minneapolis convenience store called the police to report that one of their customers bought cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. That man, a black person named George Perry Floyd Jr., was pinned to the ground by the police officers who arrived on the scene. One of the cops kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, suffocating and killing Floyd.
Floyd’s murder was caught on camera by an onlooker, and has since become one of the most pivotal events of the entire year. In the United States, there has been continuous protesting for the last 2 weeks, first in Minneapolis but eventually spreading to the entire nation, and beyond. There have been protests in Australia, Britain, France and Germany. Even Waterloo held a protest. On June 3, thousands peacefully congregated to remind everyone that racist police brutality isn’t just an American problem, but an issue in Canada as well. Most of Waterloo’s protesters were wearing masks: a detail that illustrates how the coronavirus threat is still looming in the background.
These protests were sparked by an incident of police brutality, and have led to hundreds more. Police have been discovered shooting, killing, beating, pepper-spraying, and tear-gassing protesters. They have also “side-swiped” protesters with squad car doors, and shoved people to the ground. In one case, a police officer riding a horse ran over a civilian. Some of this violence has been directed at people suspected of looting during the protests and riots. However in some other cases, the police have gone as far as attacking medics seeking to care for injured protesters.
The generations of police violence against people of color, the numerous recent attacks on civilians, and the sheer grit of the protesters have encouraged demands for sweeping social change. Merely charging Floyd’s killers with murder wasn’t enough: the protesters demand defunding the police, or in some cases totally dismantling them. Different communities have made different proposals. Some simply want to reduce the money spent on police forces, and reallocate them to other social programs that can reduce crime through systemic change. Such programs include improved housing, mental health and education. One such plan has already been approved in New York. More ambitious proposals include removing the police entirely and finding new ways to ensure public safety. Many people want the police to use less military-style equipment and tactics: Houston for instance may soon ban police chokeholds and strangleholds. In Minneapolis, the origin and epicenter of the protests, nine city council members promised a new plan to totally dismantle the police in their city. You can read more about specific proposals for police reform at Campaign Zero.
George Floyd’s funeral was held on June 9th in the Fountain of Praise Church in Houston, the city where Floyd was raised. The funeral was aired live, and hundreds of mourners attended in person. During his high school years he was basketball player, known for being “able to dunk with both hands”. Later in his life, he was a father of five, and a grandfather of two. It’s a tragedy that he suffered such a horrible murder, but in the words of Houston mayor Sylvester Turner: “when he took his last breath, the rest of us will now be able to breathe.”