Seven months ago, George Floyd was killed during an arrest, after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd’s death not only sparked worldwide protests against excessive police violence and racial profiling but significantly transformed American public attitude concerning systemic discrimination and racial injustice.
Floyd’s death reintroduced a number of similar incidents into media coverage, such as the shooting of Breonna Taylor at her home under a no-knock warrant on 13 March, and of Rayshard Brooks while running away from a police officer. Their deaths were spotlighted by protestors in June, who demanded that appropriate punitive measures should be taken upon the police officers responsible for the killings.
Chauvin currently faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder and manslaughter, while the three other officers involved in Floyd’s killing are charged with aiding and abetting his death. He was originally charged with third-degree murder, but this was elevated to more serious charges in June; making him the first white officer to be charged for a black civilian’s death in Minnesota. In October, he was released from prison on a $1 million bond, and his trial is due to take place in March 2021 along with the other three officers. Minnesota prosecutors are looking to introduce evidence of a 2017 arrest, stating that Chauvin similarly knelt on the back of a 14-year-old boy who was slow to comply with instructions, and ignored his pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Assistant attorney general Matthew Frank wrote in a court memorandum: “As was true with the conduct with George Floyd, Chauvin rapidly escalated his use of force for a relatively minor offense. Just like with Floyd, Chauvin used an unreasonable amount of force without regard for the need for that level of force or the victim’s well-being.”
Another spotlight during the protests was the death of Breonna Taylor, as her family and activists called for all three officers involved to be charged with murder or manslaughter. Unfortunately, the process of ensuring accountability for her death has not been very successful. One police officer was charged with three counts of “wanton endangerment” in September for firing into a neighbor’s apartment, while the two other officers were not charged. This news further fuelled civil unrest and demonstrations in Louisville and a number of other US cities.
Immediately after Floyd’s death, several state and local governments reevaluated their police department’s policies – several, for instance, banned the use of chokeholds without exception. Most notably, the Minneapolis city council promised to dismantle the Minneapolis PD to replace it with a new system of public safety; but there appears to be a gap between what was pledged and their subsequent actions. In June, the city council proposed a measure for the November ballot, to replace the police department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention; but this proposal was scrapped in November by the Minneapolis Charter Commission. Instead, the city council voted to divert 4.5% from the police budget towards funding for mental health crisis response teams and violence prevention programs. The council also voted against a measure to reduce the size of the police force from 888 to 750 authorized officers. The Minneapolis PD remains widely distrusted: a new survey conducted by the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that 75% of black respondents did not believe that MPD officers were held accountable for police misconduct; and the survey concluded that the MPD’s historic use of excessive force, racially-biased activity and discrimination has rendered them largely ineffective. Nevertheless, several activist movements in Minnesota are optimistic about the progress made in public safety measures through the diversion of funding and express a hope that continued public pressure will result in tangible reform.
On a national level, there is a renewed focus upon the historic oppression of the black community, which has sparked notable shifts in the practices of various institutions. This occurred on both a symbolic level – such as Nancy Pelosi’s order that the portraits of four House speakers who served in the Confederacy should be removed from the US Capital – and a legislative level, such as President Trump’s signing of an Executive Order on Police Reform to call for training on de-escalation techniques and use of force. In June, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping police reform bill, termed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 which proposes an expansive series of measures, the most notable of which include curbing “qualified immunity” (a legal provision allowing police officers immunity from civil suits unless proven to violate statutory or constitutional laws) and banning chokeholds on a federal level. This measure has stalled in the Senate, with both Democrats and Republicans introducing their own bill respectively. This echoes previous stalemates over other policies, such as efforts at introducing gun reform bills, and it remains uncertain whether such talks will yield tangible results. With Joe Biden’s presidential victory, however, if the Democrats are able to retake the Senate in the upcoming elections, the possibility of enacting a more expansive, far-reaching set of reforms will increase.
What happened to promises to disband the Minneapolis Police?: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/what-happened-disband-minneapolis-police-1102763/
George Floyd trial: prosecutors seek to show video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on teen: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/18/george-floyd-trial-derek-chauvin-kneeled-on-teen-2017-video
The House just passed a sweeping police reform bill: https://www.vox.com/2020/6/25/21303005/police-reform-bill-house-democrats-senate-republicans
How George Floyd’s death has impacted American life: https://www.voanews.com/usa/race-america/how-george-floyds-death-has-impacted-american-life
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Author: Nikita Nandanwad
Editor: Kelsey Greeff
Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik