By Daniel Wright-Mason – Editor-in-Chief
As protests continue to rage across the United States over the death of George Floyd, we see that this incident has opened up the wound that has scarred the nation for centuries, that of institutional police brutality towards African Americans.
On the 25th May 2020 George Floyd, a Houston native living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was killed whilst being restrained by police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd, who’d recently lost his job as a restaurant security guard due to the Covid-19 outbreak, allegedly drew the attention of the police when he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 at a deli in Southern Minneapolis. The police were then called to the scene, where upon Floyd was restrained by four officers, including Chauvin. According to an initial police report, this resulted in Floyd “suffering medical distress’ resulting in his death, which cameafter him ‘resisting arrest’.
However, this account was immediately challenged by footage, now caught in a viral clip, that shows a horrific sequence which throws this report into complete dispute. In the clip, the police officer now identified as Chauvin can be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for a painstaking total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, all whilst Floyd was subdued and kept in place by another police officer. During this time, Floyd is seen to be shouting in distress, shouting that he “can’t breathe”, and in one instance even calling out for his mother in pain. After around five minutes, Floyd becomes unresponsive, and yet Chauvin continues to put pressure on Floyd’s neck for almost three minutes, despite pleas from bystanders, including a fire fighter, for him to check Floyd’s pulse. After minutes of this Floyd, who in the video is clearly motionless, is taken away on a stretcher, and hours later is pronounced dead by Hennepin County Medical Centre. This incident has been condoned by many major politicians in Minnesota, with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey saying, “This officer failed in the most basic, human sense”. These sentiments were echoed by Minneapolis Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, as well as both Minnesota Senators and the Governor of the State. As of May 29th, Chauvin was arrested on charges of 3rd degree murder, and manslaughter. Since the incident, it has been revealed that he had 18 previous complaints filed against him and had been involved in three prior police shootings.
To many, this is simply another incident of police brutality in the United States, of which the African American community appears to bear the brunt of the violence. Upon hearing the heart-wrenching cries of Floyd that he “can’t breathe”, many are reminded of the 2014 death of New York City resident Eric Garner, who was killed by police officers in similar circumstances. In an eerily similar viral clip of this incident, officers are shown to be pinning Garner to the floor with one officer holding his arm around Garners throat, which resulted in his death at the scene. Tensions have also been high in recent months following two other documented instances of unarmed African Americans being killed. The first of these was emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor, who was shot in March while she slept by Kentucky police officers after they stormed her apartment looking for a suspect who was reportedly already in custody. The second occurred in Georgia, in which jogger Ahmuad Arbery was chased and shot in the street by locals who claimed he was a ‘burglar’, which has been described by many as a ‘modern day lynching’. Whilst this killing was not committed by police, many were outraged that arrests were not made until a video clip of the incident went viral on the 5th May, despite the shooting occurring on the 23rd February. In this instance, much like with Floyd, the police reports and video footage seem to show widely different versions of events. This leads many to suggest that perhaps there are countless other incidences in which there is no bystander footage that occurred wildly differently to their description in the police report.
It is no surprise that these incidences have brought public mood to boiling point, with protests beginning in Minneapolis on the 26th May, and continuing nightly since. In some instances, this protest has turned to violence, with protestors clashing with police, leading to damages to dozens of businesses, as well as instances of looting. This led to an ominous response from U.S President Donald Trump, who tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, before claiming that he had not wished to incite violence with these words. It is unclear as to when these protests will stop, but as National guard forces begin to mobilise, it would appear that they will attempt to restore order.
What is clear however, is that these protests are bigger than just George Floyd, and highlight the simmering racial tension that has existed in the U.S for so long. Despite making up only 12% of the population, African Americans make up around 25% of annual police victims, leading many to suggest that they are systematically targeted and oppressed by an institutionally racist police system. The police force in the U.S has a budget of $194 billion per year, which is over 13 times more than the UK police budget and has access to more equipment than most world militaries. That leads many to suggest as to what their purpose really is, to ‘protect and serve’? Or to occupy and control?
It is difficult not to feel an element of sympathy for many U.S police officers, in a country with an estimated 400 million firearms, with around 500 police officers being fatally shot since 2010 (compared to just 11 in the UK), arrests must often be stressful and paranoia inducing experiences. This, however, does not excuse such blatant instances of violence, paramount to an execution, when suspects like George Floyd have been constrained and present no threat.
It is unclear as to when these protests will end, or what the outcome of them will be. But until then, Minneapolis continues to burn, people continue to fight for justice, and the cycle still continues.