Written by Inaaya Kaul, a grade 11 student.
It is saddening to say that even in the 21st-century, the core of society is discrimination. We call ourselves ‘progressive’ but continue to discriminate against minority groups based on things they cannot change. Racism exists and is deeply rooted in society. Although the election of Barack Obama helped us take steps in the right direction, we have much further to go to undo prejudice and achieve a true measure of equality among people.
With the wrongful killings of many black people by police officers, citizens were made to question the effectiveness of the police and protest for their rights. This brought people together and started protests in all 50 states in the US – all of which started with the murder of George Floyd.
Who was George Floyd?
George Floyd was an unarmed black man who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for over 8 minutes, as he repeated the words “I can’t breathe”, and as he begged and pleaded for his life. The facts are that George Floyd was a criminal. He had been to prison over 5 times for various reasons, usually the possession of drugs. He had moved to Minneapolis to find work after being released from prison and was trying to turn his life around, but he was sadly murdered before he got the chance to do so.
What charge led to him being killed?
On May 25th, Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin. He had allegedly tried to forge a cheque in a grocery store, so the police were called to report it. Chauvin arrested him and forced his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was constantly yelling “I can’t breathe” and calling out to his mother for help. For the last 2 minutes and 53 seconds, Floyd was unresponsive and not moving but Chauvin continued to restrain him. Chavin was apprehended and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Second-degree murder charges were added later, after protests by the public. However, there were four cops on-site who didn’t intervene,and were also later charged with second-degree murder.
What makes Floyd’s death even more controversial is the fact that intoxicants were found in his system at the time of death, and Floyd had pre-existing heart and circulatory problems that lead to overall poor health. However, people are discrediting these facts and creating a heroic image for Floyd.
Back in the 1600s, African Americans were not even considered to be human due to one of humanity’s most disgusting principles: legalised slavery, where they were looked at as property. As the years went by it improved and slavery was abolished after the Civil War , but this idea did not sit well with many, and white supremacy was soon reborn. Finally, in the 1960s the civil rights movement achieved great success but discrimination still remained prevalent due to the “Jim Crow” laws. This enhanced segregatory mindsets within individuals and emphasised that black people could not attend the same schools, use the same restrooms,and even live in the same towns as white people. The civil rights act of 1964 ended segregation in public places, but slavery still left a lingering effect on society. The reason it is important to understand this is that even when laws change, people’s mindsets tend to stay the same, which does not lead to necessary change.
This is still prevalent because society has never let go of the biases ingrained us. 67% of doctors have a bias against African American patients. Black students are 3 times more likely to be suspended for the same infractions. So although it may be subconscious, we do have an ingrained bias.
Are there any other similar cases?
There have been numerous cases of African American police brutality. For example, Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man was shot sitting in his car and the officer that shot him was not charged for murder. Atatiana Jefferson was a 28-year-old pre-med graduate who was shot by an officer while she was babysitting her nephew. Trayvon Martin was just drinking iced tea on his way home and was shot by George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty. Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times when he was trying to take out his wallet ,and the four officers involved were acquitted of all charges.
How did people respond?
His death has had a massive impact on not just the US but also various other countries, with all 50 states and an additional 18 countries protesting. The protests were initially peaceful but as the police became more violent, some groups started to loot local businesses. They did this to ensure that Floyd’s death is not overlooked and instead, becomes a catalyst for change. As the protests are progressing, the police are becoming increasingly violent and using rubber bullets and other harmful equipment
Is America as progressive as it claims to be when it comes to equality?
Racism is institutionalised in the US and become a part of the culture. The police rarely face charges for their immoral actions that further establish racism in the community. Ironically, America calls itself the “Land of the Free” but was built on legalised racism and discrimination. Black people have felt oppressed and looked down upon in society for generations ,and George Floyd’s murder was the tipping point that culminated in riots.
The number of hate crimes in the USA have increased by roughly 15% every year for the past five years.
One’s life is, arguably, determined by skin that people are born into. Racism and oppression in the USA should have ended years ago in the Civil Rights Movement but it’s been over 50 years and the fight for #BlackLivesMatter is still greatly prevalent in the streets and on social media.