The horrifying death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of cops in Minneapolis on May 25 sparked protests for justice that developed into violent riots across the United States of America. You see, the cops involved in the murder were let off with a slap on the wrist, and no arrests! The protests that ensued have brought our attention uncomfortably back on the systemic racism embedded that runs through the nation, especially its police force.
Racial discrimination is the basis of issues with police violence, an overrepresentation of Black men in prisons, and racialised poverty in the west. While Blacks made up 23% of victims of police killings in 2017, despite comprising only 13% of the American population. When killings of unarmed civilians like George Floyd are considered, the statistics are even starker.
In 2015, more than 34% of unarmed civilians killed by police officers were black. Other studies indicate that Black males are almost three times as likely, and Hispanic males are almost twice as likely, to be killed by police use of force than white men.
Similar killings — Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice – caused largescale protests in 2014. The movement that became Black Lives Matter brought on appeals for stronger policy-making against racially motivated police violence and criminal injustice. George Floyd’s death has sparked renewed interest in Black Lives Matter.
George Floyd protests point to systemic racism
Disparities are abundant in the access that African Americans can enjoy to civil and political rights, despite the American Constitution stating “all men are created equal”. Policing of African Americans as well as racial profiling of Hispanics and Native Americans has influenced the behaviour meted out to them by the justice system.
Despite witnessing a century of racial discrimination, the US chooses to deny these problems; adopting an “ignorance is bliss” attitude towards these communities. Racism has become ingrained in the historical and cultural fabric, rights from the days of slavery of African natives, yet there’s a business-as-usual outlook to this violation of human rights.
One study by the Human Rights Commission showed that in 2014, three-fourth of all “Stop and Frisk” subjects in Chicago were Black citizens although they made up just 32% of the population. The next year, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Illinois reached an agreement with the Chicago police to reform its “Stop and Frisk” policy. Studies on racial bias by cops in Minneapolis (the same town where George Floyd was killed), Washington, DC; Los Angeles, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Cleveland, Albuquerque, and Portland showed similar cities.
Over-policing for money?
Over-policing of minority communities isn’t restricted to major cities, and could be driven by a desire for the department’s profit. Certain policies in the criminal justice system allow for policing of petty crime (and associated court fees) to become a revenue stream for municipal commissions. Take the example of Ferguson where Black citizens constitute 67% of the local population, but account for 93% of arrests, according to data by the Department of Justice. Moreover, African Americans comprised 85% of all car stops, 90% citations, and 93% arrests between 2012 and 2014.
Donald Trump puts a stop to reform
Police departments in the States are becoming more army-like, using heavy weaponry in SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) operations targeted against Blacks and Latin Americans. One analysis by the ACLU 61% of all persons in drug-related SWAT raids were members of historically discriminated groups. Former President Barack Obama had begun taking positive steps to remedy this militarisation of the police in 2015.
After protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, he had announced new restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to local police departments. This Executive Order created a federal agency working group to oversee and implement protocols around military weapons provided to police by the federal government. The Executive Order brought a wave of new hope for human rights. However, Donald Trump’s presidency brought an end to this reform. On August 28, 2017, he rescinded EO 13688, removing the restrictions on the transfer and oversight of military equipment.
There is hope that things could change in future. #BlackLivesMatter gains momentum. Local police administration in some cities is adopting several policies to prevent racially biased over-policing. For example, the New Orleans police department has a comprehensive policy to prevent racial profiling, efforts to build police trust and relationships with the communities, measures to increase access to information on the cases that are being investigated, alternatives to arrests, and steps to follow up on the recommendations issued by the President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
George Floyd protests across America could lead to constructive change in law enforcement, not only in the US but across the world, and put an end to the thorn of racial discrimination.