Protests grip the US after police killing of “gentle giant” George Floyd

Protests have swept across the United States after the brutal killing of 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis. The tragedy unfolded as a white police officer named Derek Chauvin kneeled on the man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, with Floyd begging for his life until falling unconscious and eventually dying in the street. The events unravelled in the view of multiple witnesses and were captured on mobile phone footage. Chauvin and three other officers were subsequently sacked from the police department due to their involvement in the murder and the former has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Protesters are now calling for the other three officers to face the same punishment.

Protests have since erupted in multiple cities across the US, beginning in Minneapolis and spreading to New York, Atlanta, Detroit and other cities. Violent clashes between protesters and security forces have been commonplace, leading to the White House being briefly locked down. Minnesota’s governor, Tim Walz, has said justice “will come in a timely manner” and “will be fair”, whilst also claiming the tragedy had turned into “something much different – wanton destruction”. Amongst the protests, a number of buildings have been burned, looted and vandalised, with the torching of a police station prompting the activation of the state’s National Guard. Though many clashes have been between protesters and security services, reports have emerged that much of the violence has been carried out by those opposing the protests. Rumours have swirled surrounding the presence of white supremacists and vast amounts of anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric has swirled across social media, with suspicion that many people opposing the protests are initiating violence.

George Floyd, described by his friends as a ‘gentle giant’, had moved to Minneapolis to find work. He was the father of a six-year-old girl who lives in Houston with her mother, Roxie Washington, who described Floyd as a good father. Mr Floyd has often been described in interviews as a “quiet personality but a gentle spirit” and a regular customer of his place of work, Conga Latin Bistro, claimed he “loved hugs from his regulars”. Though he had served a prison sentence of 5 years for an alleged “home invasion” and armed robbery, Mr Floyd had since turned his life around and had also become an outspoken critic of gun violence, saying in a recent video on social media: “our young generation is clearly lost”. Mr Floyd lost his life for allegedly using a fake $20 note in a shop.

Former President Barack Obama has said “this can’t be ‘normal’” for America as the killing has served as a brutal reminder of racial inequality in the United States. Nationwide calls for an end to unjust police violence against black Americans have been present for many years and, after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement was initiated.

Amongst the unrest, a journalist for CNN, Omar Jimenez, was arrested whilst covering the protests in Minneapolis. Mr Jimenez was handcuffed and led away live on air, despite him identifying himself as a CNN journalist and telling riot police: “we can move back to where you’d like here. We are live on the air at the moment”. The arresting officer simply responded “You are under arrest” before leading him away. The journalist and his crew have since been released without charge. American news broadcasters, CNN, have since called the arrests a “clear violation of their First Amendment rights” in a tweet. The First Amendment of the US constitution protects freedom of speech and of association. Governor Walz has since taken “full responsibility” for the incident and emphasised the importance on a “safe spot for journalism to tell the story”, adding there was “absolutely no reason something like this should happen”. 

President Donald Trump has described the killing of Mr Floyd as “a terrible, terrible thing” and has spoken with his family, describing them as “terrific people”. Mr Trump has faced claims of racism and bigotry throughout his term in office. In 2018 he defended the death of a young woman protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville by placing blame on “both sides” whilst claiming there were also “very fine people on both sides”. His rhetoric has also been viewed as a catalyst for initiating conflict with Twitter recently hiding a tweet by the president for “glorifying violence”. He said, on the subject of the Minneapolis violence, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

The violence that has ensued after the killing of Mr Floyd has further revealed the deep rooted racial inequalities within the United States. This is not the first time that protests and riots have swept across the country in such circumstances and, in a time of great turmoil across the world, the US now faces a period of mourning and self-reflection. The killing of an unarmed black citizen is becoming an all-too-frequent sight within the US and many begin to question when this violence will finally reach its end. 

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William Warnes

Global Editor - 2019/20

Co-Deputy Editor - 2020/21

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October 2021
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