On Tuesday, May 25, 2020, marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd. And nationwide, we saw supporters come together in honor of his life with memorial events, marches and demonstrations in recognition of the man who has, in recent times, become a major symbol in the fight for racial equality and police reform.
The day’s activities had multiple goals – the obvious, which was to acknowledge that it’s been a year since Floyd died under the knee of a then-Minneapolis police officer, and also to celebrate the reforms that have come about across the country since the incident that sparked major civil unrest last year.
In Minneapolis, people gathered throughout the day in remembrance near the site where he died, an area that has come to be known as George Floyd Square. In Houston, there was a celebration of his life held in the city where he spent most of his years. In New York, masses knelt outside the entrance of the Holland Tunnel, which connects Manhattan and New Jersey, for nine minutes and 29 seconds — the length of time a white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. Other major cities across the nation celebrated in recognition of him too.
At the White House in the country’s Washington, D.C., capital, members of the Floyd family met with President Joe Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and congressional leaders to discuss the nation’s progress with race relations.
We’re all encouraged by this ongoing positive movement and the strides made in the last year. In fact, many finally feel like change is here. But where are we as a country a whole year later?
In the beginning, Floyd’s death prompted a summer of international protests against police brutality and racial justice. Most recently, Floyd’s convicted killer Derek Chauvin stood trial and had been found guilty of all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The guilty verdict was a significant moment in history as American police officers have rarely been known to face legal consequences for misconduct.
There’s also been major efforts on the police reform front at the local level since Floyd’s killing. As an example, we’ve seen Austin’s city council cut the police department by one-third last summer and the Berkeley City Council in California approve a measure that shifts traffic enforcement away from the police department. Overall, the police has been largely defunded too.
But there’s still a lot that needs to be done to effect real change – a tangible one that we can all feel in our everyday lives. Chief of these is passing the George Floyd Act, which proposes legislation change that aims to combat police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing while it also seeks to ban chokeholds and limit no-knock warrants. We also need to collectively continue to root out racism in police departments across the country.
We should not have to engage in civil disobedience and extreme measures to demand justice. In the words of President Biden in his statement since meeting with Floyd family members, “the battle for the soul of America has been a constant push and pull between the American ideal that we’re all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart”.
Looking forward, we’re all hoping for even more change. But until then, as American history has shown us, it’s likely that violence and clashes will continue. Because this too marred the anniversary celebrations as militant protesters staged yet another riot in Portland, Oregon, destroying local businesses, and at least one person was also shot Tuesday near the Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd was killed.