George Floyd’s murder – a catalyst for change
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(25 May 2021) — George Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of a murderous police officer was seen as a catalyst for change, not only in policing but advancing equity and inclusion, and diversity in social, economic, and political participation in all spheres of human interaction and existence. But at the time of this writing, a year after Floyd’s death, America and the global community still had a far way to go. With little progress made we mark the anniversary of the tragic death of George Floyd witnessed by thousands on a streaming video from a seventeen-year-old girl’s cellphone. The world witnessed replay after replay of a heartless Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck lying face down on a hard unyielding pavement for more than nine minutes, continuing for some three minutes after Floyd had breathed his final breath. We were witnesses to a murder.
During this painful and inhumane experience, the world heard Floyd’s dying words, witnessed his final breath, as he pleaded with the police officer saying, “I can’t breathe.”
America and the world witnessed as Floyd, an African American, was killed by a white police officer while three other police officers looked on. A small crowd of onlookers stood and watched in trepidation, helpless to intervene to save Floyd’s life. He died alone but his dying aroused the passion, conscience, and even anger of millions of people in America and around the world.
Outrage across America and across the world was justified. Americans of all races by the hundreds of thousands marched in peaceful protests in cities, towns, and communities from the Atlantic Ocean seaboard to the Pacific Ocean, and from the north to the south, and “Black Lives Matter” was heard not only from the chant and shouts of Americans but in cities around the world as tens of thousands in other countries joined in protest of Floyd’s killing. There was a sea-change of thoughts as Americans tried to grapple with the reality that there was systemic racism in America, and but for Floyd’s race he may still have been alive today.
Millions of Americans continue to deny the existence of systemic racism which has plagued people of color in America for centuries, and the path to reformation and transformation is strewn with social, economic, and political obstacles. Many want to hold on to the advantages they have extorted from the labor of black and brown people in America and continuing to gain from what is referred to as “white privilege.” Many white Americans are in denial about the debilitating effects of racism on Americans of color and the advantages accruing to them by dint of the color of their skin. The demonstrations in response to Floyd’s murder showed that most Americans want to see changes to end the marginalization of people of color.
The concepts of equity and diversity, though around for several decades, in the wake of Floyd’s murder have become quite popular across all races and cultures in America. Yet, a year after Floyd’s death, the changes needed to transform these concepts into practical realities are yet to be implemented. The private sector, as well as NGOs, have a duty to do more to advance transformational changes – translating concepts and words into action with measurable results. Economic and political interests with the power to effect changes must lead the process if changes in people’s lives are to be realized.
Floyd’s death, for which the now former police officer was tried and found guilty of murder, created a new dynamic for new measures and strategies to promote diversity and equity in all phases of operations. The Biden-Harris administration has taken the lead, as the government should, by implementing a policy and a process of infusing diversity and equity in all departments and agencies of the federal government. A few state and local governments are following the administration’s example and are taking action albeit not nearly enough.
The outcry heard from millions of Americans for changes to the status quo was heard by the democrats in the US House of Representatives. “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020” to reform policing in America passed by a vote of 220-212, all Republicans voting no. Republicans in the Senate likewise do not support the bill and with the Democrats having a very thin majority its fate in the US Senate is uncertain.
The House bill directs changes to the disparities and inequities in policing across America. Accordingly, the bill addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices, law enforcement accountability, methods of policing, and establishes a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling. The bill’s provisions are applicable to law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels, and require new training regimes for law enforcement officers to include completion of training on racial profiling and implicit bias. It holds accountable other police officers who fail to intervene against fellow officers engaged in the use of excessive force. The potential effect of this bill, if it becomes law, would be transformational measures that could change policing across America. Equity could be the new norm in policing in federal, state, local police jurisdictions.
The backdrop to Floyd’s death is that his murder at the hands of a white police officer is not an aberration in America. We have seen far too often people of color either being killed or harassed by white police officers, and they do so with impunity. The House bill to reform policing would make law enforcement officers accountable for their abhorrent, and often racist and egregious behavior. President Biden and the Democrats in the Senate must find a way to ensure justice prevails for people of color in America. Speaking concepts of equity and diversity must be backed by laws which provide sanctions for aberrant behavior. Otherwise, George Floyd’s murder will not be the catalyst for the changes needed and raised expectations will not be met.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post