Charmaine – Year 12 Student
Editor’s Note: Year 12 student Charmaine writes this heartfelt essay on the recent death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed during an arrest by a white police officer in the city of Minneapolis, USA. Four police officers involved in the events leading to George Floyd’s death have since been charged for murder and aiding murder. Protests against police violence towards black people spread internationally, drawing into sharp focus wider issues of racism and racial discrimination. Charmaine sees this moment as a turning point, but argues that ongoing education is needed to ensure that change is permanent. CPD
[Featured image: The mural, located on the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, is the work of artists Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, and Greta McLain. The group started working on the mural on Thursday morning and finished it within 12 hours with the help of artists Niko Alexander and Pablo Hernandez. (Wikipedia: Creative Commons)]
Amid a pandemic on May 25, an unarmed black man named George Floyd was brutally murdered by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for nine slow minutes while Floyd repeatedly cried out ‘I can’t breathe’ – all because they thought he faked a $20 bill, which is approximately £16. This murder has been viewed by millions of people worldwide, leaving some people in shock that a police force designed to protect citizens could do such horrific things and others in anger at the fact that this seems to be a recurring event. Society’s reaction to protests and riots raises questions as to whether we will finally see justice for black people in America and the UK after hundreds of years of struggle. Within a short amount of time after his murder, George Floyd has become the face of protests around the world with many people chanting his last words of “I can’t breathe” and “justice for George” to finally put an end to the plagues of institutional racism and racial discrimination which many black people face today.
Can the murder of George Floyd be a turning point in society?
In order to understand the impact the protests surrounding George Floyd’s murder will have on society, we must understand that this is not the first case of police brutality in America which has sparked large race riots where people have shown their anger. In 1992, the beating and use of excessive force on Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers triggered what people consider to be the worst race riots in American history where, over 6 days, more than 50 people were killed and more than 2,300 were injured and the property damage was estimated to be about $1 billion. Though this riot was considered to be one of the worst in history, the impact people hoped it would achieve was not reached as anti-black police brutality did not decrease; instead, it continued to be a recurring event many black people experience in America and the UK. Since the Los Angeles riots, we have seen the murders of many black children, women, and men such as Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, and Philando Castle, to name but a few. The tragedy of these cases is that none of them have received the justice they need as none of the officers involved were convicted of any charges, which is often the case: in 2019, 259 black people were killed by law enforcement in the US but, out of all those incidents, only four officers were charged for the murders. Therefore, by looking at these past incidents, it becomes clear that there is something different about the murder of George Floyd as all four officers have been charged – with second-degree murder and aiding second-degree murder – within two weeks of the incident.
This raises many questions as to why the thousands of people killed by police brutality have not received the justice they need through the prosecution of all the officers involved. The protests driven by the murder of George Floyd are sadly similar to what we’ve seen before, but this time things are different.
It is not a fight of black against white, it is a fight of society against racism.
With society in lockdown, we are living through a time of heightened anxiety as most people have been in their homes trying not to catch an invisible virus while the economy is crashing before our eyes. With most people not in work or face-to-face education, we have much more time to focus on things that we would normally ignore in our busy lives, such as the struggles other people experience. It was against this backdrop that the world witnessed the murder of an innocent black man through videos that were shared all over social media for millions to see. The bottled-up anxiety and the excess time we have resulted in a haste response from the citizens in Minneapolis and the rest of the world. The protests attracted support and involvement of people of all races and ethnicities, making it a truly diversifying movement. Having thousands of white people support black people at the Washington march in 1963 shows us that support from people who come from different backgrounds will result in positive outcomes. It is not a fight of black against white, it is a fight of society against racism. It is this strong collective solidarity that makes the current protests different from previous ones as it has taken a global pandemic to bring people together to identify and tackle racism in society.
This leads me back to my question: can the murder of George Floyd be a turning point in society?
After looking at similar cases, it is clear that there is something special about Floyd’s case; the world has demanded justice, which is what he will receive since we know that the officers involved are being charged for murder and evidence shows that this is a rare result for people killed by police brutality. I don’t believe that this is where justice will stop as there are petitions to reopen many cases, such as that of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and many more. The fact that many people have been educating themselves, donating and signing petitions, shows that we as a society are moving forward. However, this must be consistent and we all must continue to be aware of the issues challenging society today to see great change; so, keep educating yourselves and others so that we can reach a turning point with the lasting change that we need.