The year 2020 has certainly been one for the history books. Marking the start of a new decade, many would’ve begun the year with a breath of optimism and hope for a brand-new lease of life. However, it will come as no surprise that many are probably feeling a demoralised due to the harsh reality, which has been a far cry beyond anyone’s imagination. Whilst we are only at the half-way point of the year, we’ve already witnessed a string of ferocious wildfires, political escalations that nearly sparked a potential third world war, devastating humanitarian crises, and a global pandemic which brought humanity to a standstill. Although, what has stood out the most for me was the resulting social unrest which rippled from the gruesome, unlawful killing of George Floyd, 46, at the hands of the Criminal Justice System.
As witnessed in the graphic footage which shocked the world, George Floyd was unjustly murdered on the 25th of May as a result of heedless, violent use of restraint following his arrest. The incident was motivated by a 911 call from a grocery store employee, in which Mr Floyd was suspected of using counterfeit currency ($20 to be exact) to purchase a pack of cigarettes. For what most would consider a trivial offence (which was yet to be substantiated), four officers consecutively turned up to the scene and with immediacy, a gun was drawn towards Mr Floyd. Despite being unarmed, apologetic as well as demonstrating compliance and co-operation, Mr Floyd was treated as though he was a dangerous menace to society. Furthermore, despite stating he was claustrophobic, Mr Floyd was coercively pinned to the ground, and for a period of nearly 10 minutes whilst face down and in handcuffs, the overwhelming pressure from the weight of three officers consequently led to
his death. The most prominent antagonist within the footage was Officer Derek Chauvin, who
continuously placed his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck without any regard for his health and safety, as he pleaded for his life and bystanders showed apprehension.
In a globalised technological age, people are now able to instantly disseminate footage of police brutality to a wider audience, through their smartphones. Therefore, incidents of police brutality may appear as though they have become more prevalent within the last decade, but this is definitely not the case, because racism and racial inequalities have had an unchallenged and legitimised existence for centuries. A 2019 study conducted by sociologists Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee and Michael Esposito found that statistically, black men and women in the US are more likely to be killed by police in comparison to their white counterparts. Additionally, 1 in every 1000 black men can expect to be killed by police, which is 2.5 times more likely than white men. However, what is most problematic about this sinister statistic is that black men in the US have a better chance of being killed by police, than they have of winning the lottery, and this just one of many examples of
enduring racial disparity.
It is important to understand that racism doesn’t occur in a vacuum of a series of verbal and physical actions, such as addressing someone with racial slurs, or wearing blackface to a Halloween party because if that were the case, identifying and denouncing it would be a simple task for anti-racists. However, racism is a multifaceted pervasive force, which operates covertly to subjugate and exploit people’s lives, experiences and opportunities. It is heavily entrenched within the very fabric of society’s status quo, and by permeating every institution and social space, racism has consistently been able to survive, evolve and reproduce itself like a virus inside a living host. As a result, everyday beliefs and practices such as the symbolic commemoration of slave owners through monuments and street names, the whitewashing of the educational curriculum, and very language we use are riddled with nuances of racial discrimination, which many may be oblivious to, or may passively accept.
There have been countless black lives taken by the Criminal Justice system, but what stood out
about the impact of George Floyd’s death was the resulting public outcry, which initially started with hundreds of frustrated demonstrators on the streets of Minneapolis and within a matter of days became a sustained global movement, not only against police brutality, but the very existence of racism. Determined to achieve justice, masses of people from all backgrounds took to the streets to passionately engage in peaceful protest, and it arguably became the most remarkable display of solidarity in recent memory. Advocating for Black Lives Matter or speaking out against racism has often been avoided and perceived as a taboo subject. However, people are now evidently starting to gain an increased critical consciousness of the socio-economic contradictions caused by racism, and with that knowledge, a reinvigorated revolution to liberate society from the shackles of racism has
Since George Floyd’s passing, people have been proactively engaging in the uncomfortable, but crucial conversations to check their privilege as well as understand the impacts of racism and how to combat them. In similar fashion to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, numerous statues of slave traders and colonialists have been torn down across the UK, and campaigns have been launched to proactively investigate and abolish any other remnants of racism infecting our institutions. However, despite the positive achievements, there is still a lot more progress to be made to achieve equality. Removing TV shows from streaming platforms, toppling statues, and posting black squares on Instagram alone won’t suffice because black people still face systematic disadvantage in all walks of life. To state a few examples, black lives will only begin to truly matter until black people in the UK stop being 10-times more likely to be stopped and searched by police or being twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than white people. Although, what 2020 has demonstrated is that we all have a stake in the battle against racism and there is certainly hope for a more egalitarian future. However, this is
just the beginning, and it would be a real shame for Black Lives Matter to simply become another forgotten viral trend.