Anniversary of George Floyd’s killing: Changes were made, but short of ‘reckoning’ on racial justice
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and the fervent protests that erupted around the world, looked to many observers like the catalyst needed for a nationwide reckoning on racism in policing.
For more than nine minutes, a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of Floyd, a Black man, who gasped, “I can’t breathe,” echoing Eric Garner’s last words in 2014. Video footage of Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder was so agonizing to watch that demands for change came from across the country.
But in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and a divisive U.S. presidential election, 2020 ended without the kind of major police reforms that many hoped, and others feared, would come. Then, 2021 and 2022 also failed to yield much progress.
Now, three years since Floyd’s murder, proponents of federal actions — such as banning chokeholds and changing the so-called qualified immunity protections for law enforcement — still await meaningful signs of change. The beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers in early January underscored just how long it could take.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts, said during a recent press conference convened by a Black Lives Matter collective that she sees no evidence of a “racial reckoning.”
“I don’t play with words like ‘reckoning,’ ” Pressley said. “That needs to be something of epic proportion. And we certainly have not seen a response to the lynching, the choking, the brutality, (and) the murder of Black lives.”
WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN MINNEAPOLIS?
Soon after Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis adopted a number of changes, including bans on chokeholds and neck restraints, and requirements that police try to stop fellow officers from using improper force. Minnesota lawmakers approved statewide police accountability packages in 2020 and in 2021, as well as tight restrictions on no-knock warrants this month.
The city is still awaiting the results of a federal investigation into whether its police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. A similar investigation by the state Department of Human Rights led to what it called a “court-enforceable settlement agreement” in March to revamp policing in the city.
The federal investigation could lead to a similar but separate agreement with the city. Police in several other cities already operate under such oversight for civil rights violations.
“We are shifting the culture of our police department — to ensure that our officers strengthen and hold the trust of our entire community,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement Thursday.
There were immediate cries after Floyd’s murder to defund the police — and instead fund public housing and other services. But a ballot measure that had roots in that movement failed, even in some heavily Black neighborhoods.
An AP review of police funding found that some municipalities elsewhere made modest cuts that fell far short of activists’ calls.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN MINNEAPOLIS THIS WEEK?
More than 100 people gathered Thursday night at George Floyd Square, the corner where Floyd died. The event to remember Floyd included music and dancing, and a candlelight vigil was planned. Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara stopped by and talked with people in the crowd — at one point, raising his fist in solidarity.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of flowers and signs swayed in the wind between towering statues of fists at the square. Kendrick White and Georgio Wright, two Black men, said they visit the site every day and lead “pilgrimage guides” — or tours — to spread awareness about what happened.
About 20 high school students and teachers from California were in their group Thursday. Lee Fertig, head of school at The Nueva School in the Bay area community of San Mateo, said they wanted to see how the community is rebuilding.
Gov. Tim Walz declared Thursday “George Floyd Remembrance Day” in Minnesota, proclaiming, “True justice for George Floyd will come only through real, systemic change to prevent acts like this from happening again.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OFFICERS?
Derek Chauvin, the white officer who killed Floyd, and the three other officers who failed to stop him, are all in prison. Chauvin was sentenced in state court to 22 1/2 years for second-degree murder. Two of the three other officers pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter and received shorter terms, while the third was convicted of that count by a judge and awaits sentencing.
All four of the officers were also convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER PROTESTS?
Around the world, protests against racial violence and police brutality erupted after Floyd’s murder, reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement. Videos circulated on social media of U.S. police using tear gas and less-lethal munitions like rubber bullets, fueling calls for accountability, which so far has largely come in the form of civil settlements.
New York City found 146 officers had committed misconduct at protests, including one officer who drove a car into protesters. Independent reviews in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles also found those departments had mishandled their responses.
In some cities, a handful of officers were fired. Some faced criminal charges: In Austin, Texas, 19 officers were indicted. Few have been convicted.
Minneapolis has agreed to millions of dollars in settlements with people who alleged they were victims of excessive police force during unrest that followed Floyd’s killing, which included the burning of a police station. Few officers were disciplined.
WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE FEDERAL LEVEL?
In 2020, federal legislation called the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act showed signs of promise. It would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, like the one that enabled Louisville police to kill Breonna Taylor. It would also create a database listing officers who were disciplined for gross misconduct, among other measures.
The House passed it in 2021. But the Senate failed to reach a consensus.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that applied key elements of the bill to federal law officers. On Thursday, Biden renewed his call for Congress to act to bring “real and lasting change at the state and local levels.”
“I urge Congress to enact meaningful police reform and send it to my desk. I will sign it,” he said in a statement, adding that he will fight for police accountability and work with both parties to reach solutions.
Meanwhile, Pressley, the Massachusetts congresswoman, has been promoting the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, a measure she has reintroduced every year since 2020.
WHAT ABOUT THE FLOYD FAMILY?
Over the last three years, George Floyd’s family members have appeared at rallies and spoken out against police violence. Within days of his brother’s death, Philonise Floyd testified at a congressional hearing about police reform.
While relatives and reform advocates called for legislation changes, George Floyd’s youngest daughter, Gianna Floyd, met Biden at the White House in 2021. A photo of a Marine holding the door for the 7-year-old went viral.
New York City-based Terrence Floyd, who became an activist after his brother’s murder, planned to hold the third-annual memorial event at a Harlem church on Thursday evening. He has supported get-out-the-vote efforts and promoted music paying tribute to his brother.
“You have to have the faith that it will happen, because it didn’t happen overnight for Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. It didn’t happen overnight for Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson,” he said about meaningful social change. “You can’t expect it to happen overnight for us, but it will happen.”
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