George Floyd. Murdered. Period.
What a week. We know this isn’t directly hip-hop related but we’d be remiss not to use our platform to address something weighing so heavily on our team and those around us. Staying silent is a guaranteed way to see the status quo go unchanged.
It’s been a few days since footage surfaced of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee against the neck of an unarmed, nonthreatening and undeserving African-American male. As reported, Houston-native George Floyd, 46, died at the hospital Monday after officer Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while he laid on the ground for over eight minutes, including several minutes where Floyd lay motionless. As a crowd of onlookers filmed the situation and encouraged police to ease their restraints, Officer Tou Thao complacently stood by and did nothing. More footage has since leaked showing Floyd was not resisting arrest and the use of force was unwarranted.
As a result, Chauvin, Thao, and two other officers involved that were not caught on camera—Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng—were all fired a day after the footage went viral on social media. The FBI is now investigating whether those officers willfully deprived Floyd of his civil rights.
But, along with clearly depriving Floyd of his civil rights, what we all witnessed was coldblooded murder and a total lack of regard for human life. That deserves a lot more consequence than these four officers needing a new line of work. And let’s be honest, when law enforcement personnel are terminated, they often find a new gig a couple of towns over and carry on policing.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has applauded the news of the firings and on Wednesday he called for criminal charges against Chauvin, reiterating the fact that there was no justification in the actions the officer took:
“I saw no threat. I saw nothing that would signal that this kind of force was necessary.”
Just after 1 p.m. on Friday, Chauvin was finally arrested and taken into custody by the Minnesota BCA. He was charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.
Criminal charges against Chauvin is a good start, but there needs to be more than just one person held legally accountable here. Four people were fired for a reason. A man is dead, a family is grieving, and patience is understandably wearing thin for a large chunk of the American populace and especially amongst people of colour.
“They were supposed to be there to serve and to protect and I didn’t see a single one of them lift a finger to do anything to help while he was begging for his life,” Floyd’s cousin Tera Brown told CNN’s Don Lemon. “Not one of them tried to do anything to help him.”
Floyd’s brothers were also visibly distraught over their family’s loss. “They treated him worse than they treat animals.”
Without the badge on him, Thao would have been guilty of breaking Minnesota’s Good Samaritan Law which places a “legal duty on people to provide reasonable assistance to others that have been exposed to or are in peril of grave physical harm.” That’s only a misdemeanor, but the point stands. Police officer, concerned citizen… any way you cut it, Thao should have helped. And the Fraternal Order of Police agrees:
“The fact that he was a suspect in custody is immaterial — police officers should at all times render aid to those who need it. Police officers need to treat all of our citizens with respect and understanding and should be held to the very highest standards for their conduct.”
He literally stood by while his colleague carried out a senseless assault that left a man dead for no reason. It’s unclear what exact role the other two officers who were terminated played in the situation, but footage from a different angle that leaked on Friday showed three officers on top of Floyd.
And there’s no chance anyone didn’t know Floyd was in serious distress. Everyone watching from the sidewalk knew. The police officers knew. In the graphic video that has been circulating, he can be repeatedly heard stating that he can’t breathe, that he’s in pain, and “about to die.” But despite his pleas—and his body eventually going motionless—Chauvin keeps his knee firmly pressed against Floyd’s neck until an ambulance arrives. A bystander can be heard telling the police that they killed him as he’s being loaded into the ambulance.
These types of situations have played out regularly in the United States for decades, but there’s been a predictable increase in the number of cases being caught on camera and increase in global outrage when they occur. As Will Smith famously said to Stephen Colbert back in 2016, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
He made the statement to explain that he felt race relations were not as bad as they were in the 1960s or the 1860s, it’s just the incidents that occur today can be shared around the world in a matter of minutes with the power of social media.
This can certainly make it feel like things are headed in the wrong direction, but overall it’s encouraging to see so many people step up to speak out against the injustice Floyd was dealt at the hands of police. It’s not the first time we’ve seen people rally behind an injustice on social media, but now we need to see those voices enact a real change in the overall philosophy behind our society’s approach to treating each and every citizen equally; in America, in Canada, and anywhere else where people still feel marginalized and disenfranchised.
History teaches us that there’s only so much injustice people are willing to take, and what’s happening in Minneapolis right now is a result of authorities not doing what was right and arresting the officers involved. Instead, police and state officials showed how tone deaf they actually are by sending what seemed like an entire brigade of officers to protect Chauvin.
Protests in Minneapolis have turned to full scale riots which have left parts of the city burning for the past three nights. It has some drawing comparisons to the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 and the beating of stepbrothers Marquette and Ronald Frye in the predominantly black neighborhood of Watts in 1965. Both incidents caused a large series of riots, and both lead to the injury, death or arrest of thousands of people.
But the feeling now is the Minneapolis riots could end up being much worse, and if those other cops aren’t arrested soon it’s going to spill over to other cities. As I typed part of this, the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct was burning, other buildings had been vandalized, and stores have been looted. The Chauvin arrest doesn’t necessarily mean the end to these riots.
You may be quick to condemn the people involved, but try to understand the emotion that might come with being fed up with feeling marginalized, devalued, and part of a society with such obvious systemic inequality and racism. It doesn’t excuse a business owner potentially losing everything at no fault of their own, but it might offer a better understanding of how things could escalate to such a level so quickly. You see, it hasn’t been a quick escalation at all. It’s just one incident too many for a lot of people. Innocent people of colour have been murdered far too many times and for far too long, and to expect every member of society to respond peacefully and complacently in response to that is pure delusion.
People are understandably tired of seeing black men and women die. Along with Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are recent examples of unarmed people of colour being killed in the United States, and in Toronto the Special Investigations Unit (police watchdog) has been called in to investigate the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Her family claims the 29-year-old fell from their 24th-storey balcony after being pushed by Toronto police.
Obviously, not everyone in Minneapolis is out rioting to protest the injustice handed to George Floyd, but the large majority are and their voice needs to be heard. What they want to see first and foremost, along with millions of other people around the world, is the arrest of the four officers involved in Floyd’s murder. That would be a step in the right direction, but instead we’ve seen authorities make decisions that have further increased the brewing tension.
The police response to this protest has been pegged as a perfect example of how people are treated differently. The Minneapolis Police approached this protest ready for war, but stood by and watched a mostly white crowd of pandemic-deniers armed to the teeth storm government buildings to protest having to stay home. Footage has shown police cruisers randomly shooting pepper spray out their windows while driving by peaceful protesters. With the police handling things that way, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the situation escalated to a full-on riot.
Floyd was stopped by police on suspicion of forgery, and he lost his life before getting his day in court—despite posing no threat, and not being armed in any way.
That violated the fifth amendment which states “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger.” Now compare that to white Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz who was arrested peacefully, despite having just killed 17 people and injuring 17 others. Cruz didn’t resist arrest, just like Floyd. So why did a man accused of forgery get treated like the bigger threat? Because he was a black male. That’s why. Period.
Between Ahmaud Arbery’s murder back in February, 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor being shot to death by police in her own home on March 13, the racially charged incident that took place in New York City’s Central Park on May 25, and now Floyd being murdered by police, there has been no shortage of incidents to make the mood of an already pissed off populace completely boil over.
And boiling over is exactly what we’re going to see happen in other American cities if authorities don’t step up to do what’s right very soon. And, much deeper than that, find a way to open a genuine, meaningful, dialogue with the black community and start pushing for a real change. Action, not just words. Ideally, the way American polices its citizens would be at the top of the list of things that need to be reshaped. This is not just an issue impacting black people. This is a human rights issue all around.
Justice for George Floyd is what people need to see. Rest In Peace to all the victims of prejudice and police violence.
Floyd’s family has created a Official George Floyd Memorial Fund which you can support on GoFundMe.
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