In Three Years Since the Murder of George Floyd: How Far Have We Come?

Opinion: In the time since he was killed as he lay prone on a Minneapolis street, has any real progress been made?

On this third anniversary of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd, one is left to ponder whether any real progress has been made regarding increased police accountability and improving the lives of Black folks in this country.

The short answer is no, not enough.

At best, we have experienced incremental progress on police accountability measures in Minneapolis and across the nation. At worst, we were the beneficiaries of a number of empty promises of a racial reckoning as well as multimillion dollar investments by large corporations into anti-racism and equity measures that never fully materialized.

But what did we expect? We are living in a nation that still refuses to fully acknowledge and atone for the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and the lingering psychological, economic, emotional, physical and social impacts to generations of Black folks.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., put it best during his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech during the March on Washington, when he said: “America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.” He uttered those prophetic words in 1963. Sixty years later,  America has still not made good on its promises.

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With regard to some of the incremental changes to policing practices that have occurred, some jurisdictions, including Minneapolis, have banned the use of chokeholds and neck restraints similar to the one that was used to kill Floyd. New York City ended qualified immunity (becoming the first city to do so) and Minnesota recently passed a bill to limit the use of no-knock warrants at the behest of activists and the parents of Amir Locke, a young Black man who was killed by Minneapolis Police in February, 2022 during a botched raid of an apartment.

Some jurisdictions around the country reduced their police budgets, while others, including Minneapolis, increased their expenditures for police in this year’s budget.

As a whole, policing in this country has not fundamentally changed. However, in light of millions globally taking to the streets in protest after Floyd’s killing, awareness of the systemic nature of police violence and brutality has increased.

Increased awareness can lead to better informed jury pools that are more likely to hold police officers accountable for misconduct, as opposed to giving them the benefit of the doubt, which used to be the norm. This shift in awareness undoubtedly contributed to unprecedented prosecutions at the state and federal levels for all four former Minneapolis police officers who killed Floyd.

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Since then, we have witnessed multiple officers charged and convicted for their crimes and the unjustified use of deadly force, although this still only happens in a small fraction of cases nationwide. Thus, generally speaking, police officers are still able to kill people with impunity.

Within the last three years, there had been hope that Congress would pass more sweeping police reforms, such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. However, in spite of support from the Floyd family and many around the nation, this bill remains stalled in Congress. This is yet another symbol of stalled progress on issues that matter to Black communities.

Instead of the police accountability reforms that advocates hopes for, we saw the surprise passage of a Juneteenth holiday which could be interpreted as an empty and performative gesture.

In the aftermath of Floyd’s killing, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights issued a scathing report of their investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. This led to a recently announced consent decree of sorts that is expected to be approved by the court, along with a monitor who will help provide oversight. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a pattern-or-practice investigation into the MPD, which is also expected to result in a consent decree.

As these long-overdue processes unfold, Minneapolis is struggling to rebuild and restructure its police department, which lost hundreds of officers who went out on medical leave, but are still collecting pensions off of the backs of taxpayers.

Some may argue that some progress is better than no progress, and in many ways that’s true. However, the United States can and must do better when it comes to protecting and advancing the rights of Black people and repairing the myriad harms caused by white supremacy and systemic racism.

As a people,remain vigilant in organizing, raising awareness, and using our voices to demand the justice we deserve. We must not become numb to violence against Black bodies and move on as if all is well. As the Memphis Police killing of Tyre Nichols reminded us—all is not well— and it’s only a matter of time before the next unjustified police killing of a Black person occurs.

Nekima Levy Armstrong, Esq., is a Minneapolis-based lawyer and activist, Executive Director of the Wayfinder Foundation.

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