On May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, an African-American man, George Floyd was arrested for trying to pass a fake $20 bill, and through a series of events, he died in police custody. The events leading to his death were filmed by bystanders. The news of a white policeman holding a knee on a black man’s neck traveled far and wide across the globe. The specter of racial problems in the US was raised once again. American people responded widely by protesting this death. Protests spilled into American cities and towns, at times turning into riots and bringing violence with them. It is important to remember that protests symbolize the freedom Americans have – freedom to object to authorities’ injustice, perceived injustice or simply the use of excessive force.
Derek Chauvin, the police officer involved in the death of Mr Floyd, was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. This charge was brought on May 29, 2020 (source: abcnews.com) and following the announcement of charges, thousands of people of all skin colors took to the street to protest the police brutality, but also, the suspicion that black Americans are not treated in the same way as white Americans. The mostly peaceful protests were marred by clashes with police in several cities, acts of vandalism and looting in some cities as well. The protests reached from Minneapolis to the White House in Washington, D.C. In many cities curfew hour had to be set up.
On June 2 and June 3, following the autopsy of Mr Floyd and released results, charges were changed to second-degree murder charge (more serious charge). Other officers present at the scene were charged with aiding-and-abetting second degree murder and manslaughter. The change was important not only from a legal perspective, but also in response to claims made by protesters. Washington Post (June 8, 2020) claimed that by the end of 2015, officers had fatally shot nearly 1,000 people, twice as many as ever documented in one year by the federal government. The next year, 2016, police fatally shot nearly 1,000 people again and in the year after that, again a similar number. Americans have clearly had enough. When we add to it the black man’s death at the hands of the white police officer, the issue became more divisive not only because the race aspect was added to it, but also because 2020 is the year of the presidential election.
The nation is divided on many issues, from abortion to how to handle illegal immigrants, how to deal with trade sanctions for China and how to become less dependent on China. Any of these issues is enough to divide the nation politically. These divisions, exemplified by the death of Mr Floyd and subsequent riots and vandalism, drew the world’s attention to the United States.
Some of the protesters sided with people like Grayland Hagler of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ who said that “white Americans generally thought police to [be] friendly protectors” and implying that non-white Americans do not have the same outlook (source: Washington Post, June 8, 2020).
However, the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani claims that “More police officers are shot and killed by blacks than police officers kill African-Americans” (source: Market Watch, June 18, 2020).
Following the death of Mr Floyd, the protests that spread peacefully through many small and large cities in the USA, were inflamed even more with the death of an African-American man, Rayshard Brooks at the hands of a white police officer on June 12, in Atlanta, Georgia. The mostly peaceful marches were at times transformed into manifestations of violence which, in fact, killed people. For example, some of the earlier demonstrations and protests following George Floyd’s death resulted in widespread property damage in Minneapolis.
The damages were not unnoticed by most Americans, and while it is fair to say that most Americans have always supported peaceful protests, many if not most respond negatively to property damage. To make matters worse, during the violent riots some people were killed. For example, David Dorn, a 77 year old black American was killed on June 2, 2020 in St. Louis. He was a retired police officer who worked as a security guard for a shop. Robert Forbes, a black American was hit by a car while peacefully protesting in Bakersfield, California. (Source: USA Today, June 18, 2020). As ABC7 news reports, on May 31, 2020 in Oakland, California, a federal law enforcement officer was shot and killed while providing security at the US Courthouse on May 29, 2020 during the protests followed by riots in that city.
In anticipation of marches and riots, some shops decided to board up their storefronts to protect expensive glass from being broken. For example, in Manhattan, the famous Fifth Avenue had many of its famous shops boarded up: jewelers Tiffany’s and Cartier’s, sports shoes stores Nike and Puma, the GAP store, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent stores.
In the country ravaged by COVID-19 and with shelter-in-place orders, the protest marches and subsequent riots are expected to bring in a spike of infections in near future. The slogan and name of the organization Black Lives Matter was used in protests throughout the country, trying to draw the attention to the long and difficult history of slavery and its aftereffects in the United States. Currently, the attention is indeed on the long and painful history of enslaved black Americans, on reviewing whose monuments have a right to stand in American cities.
President Donald Trump who is a Republican Party candidate for the office of the President for the second time in November elections, announced executive action on policing on June 16, but the announcement was swiftly criticized by his Democratic party opponents as being incomplete and not critical enough of police force in general (source: Washington Post, June 16, 2020). However, as the American Spectator points out on June 18, 2020, the Democrats who criticized President Trump’s police reform are not without fault themselves.
California, one of the many states under Democratic control, has long been known to shield and protect police officers for “serious misconduct”. Now, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a state-wide effort to decertify police officers who engage in such misconduct. The American Spectator wondered why this change is taking place only now, why the democratic California ignored serious misconducts of its officers for a long time (Source: American Spectator, June 18, 2020).
In the coming months it is likely that protests will continue as the energy gathers for the presidential election. In a few days Joseph Biden will be officially announced as the Democratic candidate for the presidential election, at the moment the US is fighting COVID-19 much like the rest of the world, and the country awaits to collect itself from a difficult year that is only half way through.
By Dorota Ratusińska, environmentalist