In the evening hours of Monday, May the 25th, George Floyd a 46-year-old African American man was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by an officer’s knee on his neck which ultimately resulted in his death. Officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng from the Minneapolis Police Department had responded to a call of “forgery in progress” in the Powderhorn Park neighbourhood.
According to the police Floyd “appeared to be under the influence”, and physically resisted the officers. The officers were able to handcuff him and noted that he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers then proceeded to call for an ambulance.
A portion of this arrest was filmed by a bystander, in which one can see Floyd pinned face down on the ground with Officer Chauvin’s kneeling on his neck.
Desperate pleas of “I can’t breathe” and groans and sobs can be heard, along with the various remarks by bystanders regarding Floyd’s well-being. These remarks seemed to fall on deaf ears as officers failed to remedy the situation, despite him not resisting anymore.
Seven minutes later Floyd goes silent and lays motionless, still not prompting Officer Chauvin to remove his knee. Bystanders notice the lack of movement and urge the police to check Floyd’s pulse. The ambulance service arrives finally prompting Officer Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck and his body is carried on to the stretcher.
George Floyd was dead.
The video was posted on Facebook and went viral, resulting in firing of the four officers involved in the arrest of Floyd and the development of a makeshift memorial at the site of Floyd’s death with many tributes and references to the Black Lives Matter movement being placed. Officer Chauvin has since been taken into custody.
This death strongly resounded with a vast majority of American people regarding the racially-fuelled police brutality faced historically by the African American community.
What is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement?
Black Lives Matter is a movement targeting the systemic persecution that African Americans face ranging from police brutality, racial profiling and the racial inequality in the American criminal justice system. The movement began in 2013, when the murderer of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy, was acquitted, which was followed by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the latter of whom died in a manner eerily similar to that of Floyd’s.
• Black Americans are more likely than White Americans to be arrested. Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted and once convicted, more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.
• Black Americans and White Americans use drugs at similar rates, but Black Americans are 6 times more likely to be arrested for it.
• On average, Black men in the US receive sentences that are 19.1% longer than those of White men convicted for the same crimes.
This wide disparity present in the American criminal justice system in its treatment of African Americans, has rightly incensed people and prompted the BLM Movement.
Other Instances of prejudice and injustice
• On Monday, May 25th, in New York City Christian Cooper (a Black man) an avid bird watcher requested Amy Cooper (a White woman) to leash her dog as was required in Central Park. She then demands Christian to stop filming her breaking the rules and in retaliation to his defiance, threatens to call the police and does so, changing her tone of voice to suit that of a damsel in distress. This narrative of a white woman in distress has a deep-seated history of the lynching and murder of innocent black men and boys (Emmett Till’s lynching in the 1950s).
• Sandra Bland a 28-year old woman was pulled over by Officer Encinia for failure to signal a lane change on July 10th, 2015. She was headed for her new job at Prairie View A&M University. Officer Encinia spoke to Bland, and their conversation got heated. Officer Encinia asked Bland to step out of the car, which Bland resisted to do. Officer Encinia then informed Bland that she was under arrest, with Bland repeatedly questioning the reason for her arrest. Officer Encinia finally threatened Bland of being tasered, which caused Bland to get out of her car and being handcuffed. Bland could be heard repeatedly asking why she was getting arrested along with her sobs and screams. Bland was then admitted into a cell in the Waller County Jail. Three days later, Bland was found hanging in her jail cell.
• February 23rd, 2020 Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in a South Georgia neighbourhood, Satilla Shores. Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael spotted Arbery and believed him to be responsible for several break-ins in their neighbourhood. They pursued him in a pick-up truck with guns in hand, and then confronted Arbery. William Bryan, a neighbour of McMichael’s, also pursued Arbery. Travis got down from the vehicle with his short gun in sight, to talk to Arbery when Gregory McMichael reported that Arbery attacked Travis and fought over the shotgun, which resulted in Travis firing the shotgun. A second shot was later heard as well, followed by a third gunshot at point blank range by Travis. Arbery staggered and fell to his death. On May 7th, 2020 Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on the charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
Seven years have passed since the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction however, there seems to be no decline in the racially charged, gruesome treatment of the African American community.
How many more people must die before the justice system gets reformed? How many more people are to be killed because they don’t look like they belong in the neighbourhood? How many more people must be killed for just being black and existing peacefully in a public space? It seems as if being black is a crime, with only death as the penalty.
Written by Nitya Sai T for MTTN
Edited by Mihika Antonia Dean for MTTN
Featured image by Ritwika Sarkar
Artwork by Instagram- @artbyniks
Image from TIME magazine