George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has made abundantly clear what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for. In the days and weeks since Floyd was murdered, we’ve seen unrelenting waves of protests across the country and even around the world.
Protesters gathered in all the expected places, starting with where George Floyd took his final anguished breaths in Minneapolis. Demonstrations in other large cities followed, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. But the civil unrest wasn’t limited to metropolitan areas. In fact, protests took place in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, even in some of the unlikeliest small towns.
There was a protest in Havre, Montana, where over 100 of the farm town’s 9,700 residents showed up. Hundreds protested in Alliance, Ohio. Dozens took up the call in Caribou, Maine. Thousands have joined marches and demonstrations in Fargo, North Dakota. Hundreds attended the Tuscaloosa Peaceful Racial Justice Rally in Alabama. Many have commented that this wave of unrest feels different somehow. The prevalence of these small-town marches may be a big reason why.
Another reason Black Lives Matter seems to be gaining more traction this time is the racial makeup of the protesters. We’ve seen more diversity in the crowds than ever before, more prominent white protesters, with even Utah Senator Mitt Romney joining in.
But perhaps the most important reason protests feels different this time is the serious results, anti-racial policies that have been enacted pretty quickly by law enforcement institutions. We’re seeing discussions about police reform and defunding police. Calls for national legislation and local bans on dangerous protocols like police chokeholds, no-knock warrants, to the veto-proof Minneapolis City Council committing to defunding the police.
This goes well beyond policing. Confederate statues are coming down. We are seeing education, healthcare, the arts, and dozens of other industries all taking on the systemic racism within their walls. The NFL is changing their tune when it comes to players kneeling in protest. We’re seeing companies making commitments to change, even a long-overdue rebranding for Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.
And it’s not just in the United States. We have seen the whole world rise up in outrage, from huge gatherings across Europe to smaller demonstrations across every continent except for Antarctica. Racism, of course, isn’t confined to the United States and George Floyd’s death was a spark that let to a flame of outrage and reckoning across the globe.
What made the death of George Floyd different? The pandemic and months of stay-at-home orders certainly contributed to the overall energy. Other police custody and racist incidents occurring during the same time period, from the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to the white woman calling the police on bird watcher Christian Cooper, may have contributed. However, it was most certainly the completely callous disregard for George Floyd’s life shown by Derek Chauvin kneeling, for over 8 minutes, on a dying man’s neck. That, and the casual indifference of the two officers who stood by and let it happen, sparked the flame that caused the blaze of protests around the world.