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Thursday, July 09, 2020

Explained: Why George Floyd’s death sparked violent protests across the United States

George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died in Minneapolis on Monday while being restrained by the police. Video footage showed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he gasped for breath.

By: Explained Desk | Updated: June 5, 2020 8:47:54 am
Explained: Why George Floyd’s death has sparked violent protests in the US In this May 29, 2020, photo, a check-cashing business burns during protests in Minneapolis. Protests continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

US President Donald Trump threatened the use of force in dealing with protests against the death of George Floyd, referring to participants as “thugs” on Twitter. “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the president said Friday.

Within hours, Twitter flagged the post for “glorifying violence” but let it remain visible in the public’s interest “to remain accessible.”

Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died in Minneapolis on Monday while he was being restrained by the police. Video footage of the incident, which was broadcast by the media and went viral on social media platforms, showed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he gasped for breath.

Four policemen have since been fired, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been called in to conduct a federal civil rights probe. The officer who pinned him to the ground, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third degree murder.

Also read | Black Rights Matter carries echoes of MLK’s civil rights movement

The death has triggered violent unrest in Minneapolis, leading to a state of peacetime emergency being declared in Minnesota state as well as the activation of its National Guard. Protests have also taken place in other parts of the US, including in California, New York, Ohio and Colorado.

The incident once again brought to the fore concerns over the law enforcement’s bias against the African American minority, with Floyd’s death being cited as the most recent incident of racially-driven police brutality.

George Floyd’s death

Floyd, a Minnesota resident, was arrested on Monday after he was accused of using a counterfeit $20 note at a local deli. According to the police, Floyd “physically resisted” the arrest after he was told to exit his car, a claim that was belied by mobile phone footage recorded by several passers-by. A white police officer then went on to restrain Floyd, and kneeled on his neck for at least seven minutes despite the 46-year-old gasping for breath and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe”. The officer remained in that position even after Floyd became unconscious. His unresponsive body was then taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called the incident “public lynching without a rope.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said, “Being black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck… When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense.”

Race and police violence in the US

Floyd’s repeated cry for help, “I can’t breathe”, while being restrained prompted comparisons between the incident and the death of Eric Garner in 2014. Garner, an unarmed African American man, had uttered the same words 11 times as he was held in a chokehold by a police officer in New York City before he died.

‘I can’t breathe’ has now become a rallying cry among protesters.

Explained: Why George Floyd’s death has sparked violent protests in the US A protester carries a US flag upside, a sign of distress, next to a burning building Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo: Julio Cortez)

Other high profile deaths include the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man shot seven times at close range during a traffic stop, also in Minnesota, just after he had informed the police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, that he was carrying a gun. Yanez was acquitted of all charges in 2017. The incident became viral after Castile’s girlfriend streamed part of the incident on Facebook.

Another incident from 2016 that caused a furore was when police pinned to the ground and shot 37-year-old Alton Sterling outside a convenience store in Louisiana where he was selling CDs.

Also read | CNN crew arrested while reporting on Minneapolis protests

Explained: Why George Floyd’s death has sparked violent protests in the US Protestors demonstrate outside of a burning Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo: John Minchillo)

According to a study conducted by The Guardian in 2016, the rate of fatal shootings by the police per million people was the highest for the Native American (10.13) and Black (6.6) racial groups; white people had a rate of 2.9. A Washington Post database showed that African Americans were 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white people.

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A study in the American Journal of Public Health from 2018 also found the mortality rate by police for black men to be much higher– at 1.9-2.4 per 1 lakh people compared to 0.6-0.7 for white men.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement

In 2013, after the acquittal of a civilian who fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida the year before, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began trending on social media, and a movement against systemic violence against the African American community sprung up.

Black Lives Matter achieved national fame in 2014 during protests against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown– the latter also being a case of fatal police shooting. The movement, started by three African American women, expanded across the US and invited public interest internationally. BLM is largely decentralised and does not have a formal hierarchy.

The movement has been criticised by alt-right commentators in the US. Some of BLM’s opponents have responded with their own counter-campaigns such as “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter”.

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