Has Anything Changed Since the Murder of George Floyd?
On May 25th, 2020, a white police officer, Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in front of a group of people who were pleading for Chauvin to stop. The videotape taken by bystanders showed such a brazen act of police brutality that it caused public outrage leading to wide-spread protests and calls for reform. Unfortunately, this was by no means an isolated incident as statistics clearly illustrate. Although comprising only 13 percent of the population, black people face 21 percent of police contact, make up 33 percent of people behind bars, and are more than three times more likely to be killed by the police than their white counterparts. So, has anything changed since the death of Floyd? Is America any closer to racial equity and justice? Fortunately, there has been some progress although much more needs to be done. BCT Partners, a company dedicated to equity and justice, explores some of the steps being taken to address social injustice.
Although systemic racism is nothing new, it was largely ignored until recently. While acknowledgement is only the first step, real change cannot take place without it. President Joe Biden spoke about systemic racism in both his convention and inaugural speeches. Many celebrities are describing how discrimination has personally impacted their lives. Singer Leona Lewis spoke out on social media about her personal experience with racism. Clara Amfo from Radio 1 has spoken about the Floyd episode and its effect on her mental health. The topic is no longer being ignored and the dialogue remains ongoing along with proposed necessary reform.
Municipal and State Reforms
It took another unjust killing, that of Louisville, Kentucky Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020, to galvanize protests against “no-knock warrants.” Taylor was sleeping when plainclothes police officers served a no-knock warrant on her home shortly after midnight while seeking her ex-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, for illegal narcotic activity. Taylor's current boyfriend at the time, Kenneth Walker, believed they were about to become victims of a home invasion, so he armed himself with his legally owned firearm. He fired a single shot that hit one officer in the leg. Unfortunately, a shoot-out ensued wherein the police fired 32 rounds into the apartment, shooting Taylor six times – including one fatal shot. Shortly afterward, Lashrecse Aird, a Democratic member of Virginia’s house of delegates, introduced legislation that would ban police officers in the state from using “no-knock” search warrants. She joined a growing group of municipal and state politicians working to ban or restrict no-knock search warrants across the country. According to Campaign Zero, a group which promotes police reform policies, at least 23 cities and 27 states are now considering such legislation. Other legal reforms are also taking place such as a ban on neck restraints and chokeholds during police arrests enacted in cities like Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death.
The House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act—twice. The legislation includes a series of important reforms that Democrats and Republicans agree upon, including providing mental health training and assistance for officers; collecting use of force data; providing de-escalation training; certifying officers and training courses at the federal level; mandating body-worn cameras; creating a data base of rogue police officers; and banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants nationally. However, one of the most important parts of the legislation is to repeal qualified immunity, which is the main sticking point for Republicans. Qualified immunity prevents police officers and other government officials from being held financially responsible. A majority of Americans, including over 40% of Republicans, believe restructuring qualified immunity will make a difference. The Senate has not acted, but lawmakers on both sides remain hopeful that a bipartisan bill can be passed.
Corporations Are Standing behind the BLM Movement
Today's businesses cannot merely exist – they are increasingly pressed by employees and society to take sides regarding a wide array of social issues. Therefore, they need to have purpose and values that they stand behind. The organization’s that perform the best and have the most long-term success also positively impact society. George Floyd’s murder ignited a cultural awakening that more had to be done on a corporate level to help fund the fight against racial injustice. As a result, hundreds of brands made public announcements about their donations to the Black Lives Matter movement including Etsy, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Lululemon, Target and Amazon among others. One example is the launch of the ‘One Million Black Women’ initiative by Goldman Sachs. They have committed to $10 billion dollars in direct investment capital as well as $100 million of support funds apportioned to address gender and racial biases that black women face.
Commemorating the BLM Movement
While largely symbolic, streets in major cities are being used to display support for the movement. For example, the street that leads to the White House is now named ‘Black Lives Matter’. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is also painted on Fulton Street in Brooklyn and the mayor has stated that one street per borough will soon be renamed ‘Black Lives Matter’ to highlight the importance and significance of the movement.
Supporting BLM Protestors and Charities
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, a record-setting $300 million-plus in donations flowed to 64,000 nonprofits via Benevity, a Canadian company that manages employee giving and other social-responsibility functions for companies. In fact, 51% of all donations the month after Floyd’s murder went to nonprofits working to advance racial justice and equity, including the NAACP and the Equal Justice Initiative, according to Benevity. And employee-volunteer hours through corporate-purpose programs ticked up 16% from May to June. The GoFundMe page dedicated to the memory of George Floyd also received substantial donations exceeding its initial goal of USD 1.5 million. And the Minnesota Freedom project created to cover bail for people in lower-income brackets received donations from celebrities including Harry Styles and Chrissy Teigen.
So, while society is moving in the right direction with broadscale actions addressing racial injustice, there is still much to be done. As Rashawn Ray, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute states, “Policing is just the tip of the iceberg that needs transforming. From traffic stops and cash bail to prison culture and work opportunities after incarceration, it is clear the criminal justice pipeline is laced with racial inequalities. Reimagining and rebuilding the ecosystem, structure, and culture of law enforcement is the only way forward.” As a result, Ray recently established a working group of scholars, practitioners, and policy experts to create reform solutions. In their first report, they laid out short-, medium-, and long-term reforms that can address disparities in the criminal system. Let’s hope that their recommendations get taken seriously by lawmakers so that societal inequities are finally addressed with more meaningful action.
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