Protestors heat level: Blazing protests after George Floyd’s death mimics a Rosa Parks-like moment in America, but why?

  • + George Floyd’s death triggers the highest number of curfews declared across America since 1968. 
  • + Protestors are far more representative cross-section of America.
  • + Floyd’s death is the last straw of 2020.
Protests for George Floyd
Amir Hamja for the New York Times

Why are Protestors heat level blazing?

Answer: Continuing injustices in America are postponed over and over again, Floyd was the last straw.

George Floyd’s death on May 25th triggered violent unrest in Minneapolis, which led to a state of peacetime emergency being declared in Minnesota and sparked mass protests across the U.S. and major international cities. However, we must not forget that Floyd is one of the many chapters in a book entitled “continuing injustice and inequality in America.” 

Trayvon Martin (2012), Tamir Rice (2014), Michael Brown (2014), Eric Garner (2014), Freddie Gran (2015), Philando Castille (2016), Botham Jean (2018), Ahmaud Arbery (February 2020), Breonna Taylor (March 2020). These are nine out of the many victims of police brutality against African-Americans in recent years. Voices that thanks to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, founded in 2013, have had the chance to be raised and served to campaign against police brutality and racial inequality in the criminal justice system of the U.S.

However, why has the looting triggered by the killing of Floyd brought the highest number of curfews declared across America since the riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968?

If we look back to the facts, protests of 1968 compared to the ones today heavily differ in importance and the subsequent landmark changes, though the social outbreak is very similar. The 1968 protests caused rage and despair, which inspired Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Such an act legally ended the segregation that had been institutionalised by Jim Crow laws. Laws that legalised racial segregation suddenly turned to be a shameful memory. Nowadays, the situation is very different. The U.S. has largely developed both in opportunities, resources and social internationalisation. The situation today is way different, the issue at stake is police brutality.

According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, police shot and killed 962 to 1.004 Americans each year between 2015-2019. Adding on to this, according to the database Mapping Price Violence, black Americans are nearly three times as likely as white people to be killed by police. The reasons for this finding are very diverse. It lays on the arguments of racism, that percentages of people living in poverty, being uneducated and unemployment is higher for Black people, especially African-Americans.

Though for the sake of this article, the purpose is not to understand why police brutality affects more negatively this percentage of the population, but why has Floyd’s death suddenly brought everybody’s attention. Why now and not before? Or why not later, with the most recent death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, last Friday 12th of June?

What is changing the Protestor’s temperature?

Answer: Inequalities between races being publicly materialised

Floyd’s death came in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sparked the highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression in the 1930s. 

COVID19 has exposed structural racist vulnerabilities. On the one hand, the vulnerabilities of the U.S. healthcare system as well as the hidden “biases” that have led these groups to be more disproportionately affected by the pandemic. On the other hand, the coronavirus has split the U.S. workforce into three main groups. Firstly those who have lost their jobs and face economic insecurity, those who are classified as essential workers and face health insecurity as a result, and those who are able to continue working from the safety of their homes. According to the Economic Policy Institute, black workers are less likely to be found in the last group. 

The chart below translates into an employment loss of 17.5% among black workers and 15.5% among white workers. These figures seem pretty similar, however, Black or African population alone in the U.S. amounts to a percentage of 13.4% whilst the White population alone is already 76.5%.

EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey public data.

Overall, racial disparities are now displayed with more visibility and people’s anger is starting to erupt. However, as I mentioned above why precisely now? And why only focus on a white police officer killing a black man? Why not speak up when black men kill black men and when black-police officers kill white defenceless people, as the case with Justine Damond. 

Just quickly to prove my point, Justine Damond was fatally shot by a black Minneapolis police-officer by mistake, as she was trying to report a possible crime. As Damond’s fiancé has declared these days, he feels a spiritual connection to the Floyd family and his protests, as the rest of protestors are doing these days against the excessive use of force by police departments. However, protests after Floyd’s death carry an extra element that lays at the heart of the nationwide protests, which is the reality of life as an African-Americas in 21st century America. 

Even though this last driving element is not present in Damond’s case, is this case invisibility justifiable? On the Chicago Avenue pavement a mural reading “SAY OUR NAMES” did not include her name. If the common thread between protestors is to speak up against police brutality why do some stories sell better than others?

What is driving the protestors?

Answer: The last straw

In light of this, the tech industry has proven to have an important responsibility towards society. The recording of Floyd’s death has served as a catalyst for protests to suddenly resonate around the world. The video went viral, it was nearly impossible to escape it. Such video triggered vivid memories from the other many black lives that have been lost in a similar way, and for many, this was the last straw. 

For nearly two months, two-thirds of the world’s population has been confined. Rage and political distrust have been escalating, and events such as this one simply brought a turning point. This quarantine has definitely brought many moods into each one of us. Though, it has also been a time to reflect, to be in good company, to learn, to connect, to disconnect, to accept, to reassess and most importantly to change. It has been a short pause to our busy lives and routines.

Undoubtedly, it has forced everyone one of us to adapt to sudden changes in the way we live and work. We have had the chance to look back at our lives as well as to the functioning of the world in itself and decide on the things that we liked and disliked from the way things work nowadays. For many Americans, it has led to the questioning of what parts of normal should no longer be acceptable. And the death of George Floyd definitely was one of them. 

At that point, the entire country was in lockdown, there was no option to look away or be less distracted, so more and more people decided that it was time to speak up. A time to seek for change. Especially in a year with elections looming ahead. It means that politicians are more likely to pay attention and respond. 

Due to this, the outlook of protestors, triggered by Floyd’s death is from a far more representative cross-section of America. As former President Obama said, the moment was “powerful” and “transformative”. Moreover, there is a high proportion of supporters who are not African American themselves. A poll for ABC put forward that 74% of Americans felt that the killing of George Floyd was part of a broader problem in the treatment of African Americans by police. A significant rise from 43% recorded in 2014.

American or not, what does this mean for you?

Answer: “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere”

A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. found in a letter from the Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.

Going back to the purpose of this article, the main reason why BLM has seemed to gain loads of support and people actually manifested on the streets is that for the first time in a  very long time all Americans have been deprived of their liberty. Liberty to go on the streets, liberty to go to work, liberty to travel. The difference is that the deprivation of liberty and the imposition of confinement was justified, as it was for the well-being of everyone.

The aforementioned named victims’ deprivation of life was not justified. But, when everyone is at their home seeing how a defenceless man is gasping for breath, it amounted to a lot of impotence which unravelled in protests, which carry painful resonances for black families.