A Nation Fighting for Change
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
As of September 4th:
This summer has been full of racial reckoning. Most of us do not experience or witness acts of racism or racial profiling on a daily basis. However, recent events have made systematic racism more visible.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, after having his neck pressed to the ground by police officer Derek Chauvin, rendering him unable to breathe. He died after eight minutes and forty-six seconds and Mr. Chauvin has since been charged with second degree murder. Mr. Floyd’s death sparked protests nationwide demanding police reform. Some of his last words included the phrase, “I can’t breathe,” which has become a mantra of the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2014, these were also Eric Garner’s last words after being held in a chokehold by police in New York. Mr. Garner was wrestled to the ground and put in a chokehold after resisting arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. His death was ruled a homicide, but it took five more years for the officer who killed him to be fired. These incidents, along with many similar ones, have made people, across multiple countries, races, and nationalities, push for great change to the system and the police.
While many Americans press for police reform, the process will take a long time. Strategies have been suggested to combat incidents of police brutality, which happen disproportionately in African-American communities. In 2020 alone, eight unarmed African American people were lethally shot by police officers, a number which tragically is still rising. Many more were non-lethally shot, such as Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back, on August 23, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He was not killed, but is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family. One of these eight who was killed was a young woman named Breonna Taylor. She was shot at night in her home in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 12, after three officers entered, looking for her boyfriend. Protesters are still fighting for justice for Ms. Taylor, Mr. Blake, and others killed by police officers, using the rallying cry of, “Say Their Names.”
To stop similar situations from happening, some protesters are demanding the increased use of body cameras on police. This way footage can be reviewed to see what actually happened during incidents. However, in districts where body cameras are already being used, the rules concerning them are often violated, because the cameras are not activated. In addition to camera use, there has been new legislation written, much of which was advocated by the protesters, such as restrictions on choke holds, like the one used on Mr. Floyd. As of July 16th, in 26 of the 65 largest police departments in the country, choke holds have been banned or only allowed to be used with extra restrictions. While protesters see this as a step in the right direction, many are calling for an even larger step.
That step is the defunding of police departments. This means that government officials would redistribute portions of police funding in ways that they believe would best serve the people. To help their communities better, police departments would delegate various situations to different professionals who could be better equipped to address them non-violently. Some people believe that police officers are given too many responsibilities, sometimes in situations they do not know how to handle, such as scenarios involving mentally ill people.
In almost every major city in the country, people have taken to the streets nearly every night since the killing of George Floyd to protest police brutality. Most of the time, these protests have been peaceful. In Portland, Oregon and several other cities, though, the protests escalated dramatically and became violent, leading to widespread looting, arson, and anarchy. In Portland, President Trump sent in the National Guard and federal law enforcement to protect federal property, like courthouses, that were being threatened with destruction. However, the presence of these officers actually seemed to be doing the opposite of de-escalating the situation. Crowd control (their alleged focus) is not normally part of the job of such members of the National Guard, and a few stories claim they rounded up protesters and put them in unmarked vans, violating their First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
This has caused conflict between the federal, state, and local governments. Ordinarily, there is an agreement among the levels of government before federal troops are sent into states, but the local and state governments did not agree to President Trump’s strategy when the troops were sent into Portland. The miscommunication only became more unclear as Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon, said that federal troops would start to leave Portland as early as Thursday, July 30, but the acting Secretary of National Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, said at the time, “Our entire law enforcement presence that was currently in Portland yesterday and the previous week will remain in Portland until we are assured that the courthouse and other federal facilities will no longer be attacked nightly.” This misalignment of messaging from different government branches only leads to confusion among civilians.
Protests have been proven to bring about change, such as the legislation that has been passed recently. However, many activists still want more change and are striving to make sure similar situations will be conducted with better and less violent results, and hopefully bring police brutality to a halt in this modern age.