In a 2020 that brought the world to its knees by way of the coronavirus pandemic, one name rang out in the streets louder and with more passion than any other: George Floyd.
It’s impossible to be a functioning human and not have at least a cursory understanding of Floyd’s story, but here’s a brief recap: On May 25, 2020, Police responded to a call from a grocery store employee in Minneapolis claiming that Floyd purchased a pack of cigarettes using a counterfeit $20 bill. Led by Officer Derk Chauvin, cops drew down on Floyd as he sat in his car, resulting in his being handcuffed face down on the ground with Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. He was pronounced dead about an hour later. Chauvin’s murder trial starts in March.
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What happened next was a reckoning of sorts on a global scale: fueled in part by the frustration of isolation in the nascent stages of the pandemic, and in part by the grueling, protracted video of Floyd’s murder, the rage was widespread; the response more organized than anything I’ve seen in my nearly 40 years. Protests took place in all 50 states and in several countries. Civil protests turned not-so-civil in some places, forcing businesses in several major cities to board up, further lending to the 28 Days Later atmosphere that was already in place thanks to the pandemic.
White folks – unable to patronize their local watering holes and their well of binge-able Netflix shows whittling down after months indoors – started actually paying attention to the historical and systemic maltreatment of Black and Brown people at the hands of police officers. For the first time, they were walking up to Black folks and wishing them “Happy Juneteenth.”
Floyd gave his life at 46 to become an avatar for victims of police violence in America; though there have been so many before him that it would take one all day to Say Their Names, this was the travesty that got everyone to pay attention.
A virtually endless laundry list of changes were enacted around the country in response to the outrage, from the purging of Confederate flags to the cancellation of COPS (a show no one knew was still on the air anyway) to, hilariously, a team-up with the RZA and Good Humor to record a replacement to the company’s racist ice cream truck jingle.
Congress also used the media-driven rage to act, passing a police reform package last June that, among other things, would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants (the likes of which resulted in the death of Breonna Taylor) as well as the qualified immunity for officers that have historically allowed them to skate on the bullcrap that has left so many of us dead. Unsurprisingly, the then-Republican-controlled Senate kept it from becoming law. On Wednesday, the House reintroduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which it will vote on next week.
The bill, sponsored by California Rep. Karen Bass, targets a broad array of policy issues relating to police practices and keeping law enforcement accountable for their actions. It also intends to increase transparency, data collection and discriminatory policing.
“For far too long, Black Americans have endured systemic racism and discrimination—especially from police. Congress may have written this bill, but the people own it,” said Bass in a statement.
RELATED: Joe Biden: George Floyd’s Death Is A ‘Wake Up Call For Our Country’
In an era of the Internet providing something for us to be angered by – or simply amused about – every 17 seconds or so, we tend give things our attention but for so long before we move on (you’ve already forgotten about Gorilla Glue Girl, I’m sure).
Given that, it’s imperative that we don’t forget the palpability of the anger that consumed us when the video of Floyd’s murder dropped. It’s imperative that we keep the spotlight on people with badges who act badly by using those pricey devices in our pockets, which have more than enough power in their chips to enact sociopolitical change.
So, as the world slowly reopens and the mundanity of routine becomes commonplace once again, make sure we keep up the same energy that Floyd’s murder beget. As you finally book your vacation tickets and plan your first sporting event in God knows how long, remember that they still have the guns and batons, and they’re still afraid of us. Remember how Chauvin’s knee extinguished a life and started a revolution. Say George Floyd’s name, and don’t stop saying it.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at wafflecolored.com.
BET has been covering every angle of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other social justice cases and the subsequent aftermath and protests. For our continuing coverage, click here.
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