Our current global pandemic has highlighted the fact that many people — in particular Black people and other underprivileged groups — are not #SafeAtHome. Here are just a few examples of systemic racial violence against Black people since quarantine began:
Brunswick, Georgia – In late February, a 25-year-old Black man named Ahmaud Arbery was running in his neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, when he was hunted down and killed by his neighbors who alleged that they thought he was a suspected burglar. Despite the circumstances of his murder, Ahmaud Arbery’s killers — a retired police officer and his son named Gregory and Travis McMichael — were not arrested until May 7th. They were both charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. recorded the fatal shooting and was arrested last week on charges including felony murder. The Department of Justice is currently investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
Louisville, Kentucky – In March, essential EMT worker Breonna Taylor was shot eight times and killed when police officers forced their way into her home as part of a search warrant raid. The police said in a March 13th press conference that they do not have body camera footage of the incident. The police officers claim that they knocked and announced they were police officers with a warrant. Breonna’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker was also at home at the time and immediately called 911 when police broke in. He is licensed to carry a gun and the family lawsuit alleges that he fired shots in response to the forceful entry. Police say that Walker shot and wounded a police sergeant. Walker has been arrested and charged with attempted murder of a police officer and first degree assault. He was released for home incarceration and will appear in court on June 25.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family claims that the police officers never knocked or announced themselves, nor did they find the narcotics that they claimed to be looking for. The family claims charges of battery, wrongful death, excessive force, and negligence and gross negligence. They are asking for both compensatory and punitive damages. There has been no action taken against the officers who forcefully entered Taylor’s residence and shot her. Several Louisville Council Members have called on the officers involved to resign. The FBI is conducting an investigation into the shooting.
Sikeston, Missouri – On May 3, police discovered Black trans woman Nina Pop stabbed to death in her apartment. Her death is being investigated as a hate crime and she is at least the 10th trans person to die by violence in the U.S. this year. Although Nina did not die as a direct result of police violence, her murder demonstrates the heightened risk trans BIPOC face when it comes to transphobic violence. LGBTQ+ activists are calling on police departments to do more to protect trans and gender non-conforming people, including the thorough investigation of transphobic hate crimes and eradicating laws that contribute to violence against trans people.
Tallahassee, Florida – On May 27, Tony McDade, a 38-year-old trans Black man, was shot and killed by a police officer of the Tallahassee Police Department. Tallahassee police claim that McDade was a suspect in the fatal stabbing of 21-year-old Malik Jackson, which occurred shortly before and nearby the subsequent shooting. They allege that McDade was armed with a handgun and “made a move consistent with using the firearm against the officer.”
One eyewitness claims that not only was McDade unarmed, but officers made no attempts to deescalate the situation, nor did they identify themselves before opening fire. Investigations into both the stabbing incident and the shooting were launched on May 27 and the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave. The name of the officer involved in the shooting has not been released due to a Florida law that allows officers involved in shootings to be classified as victims to protect their privacy.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – On May 18, 14-year-old João Pedro Mattos Pinto was playing in his front yard when he was shot in the midst of an operation involving the Federal Police and the Coordinator of Special Resources (Core). What happened next depends on who you ask. Some relatives and friends say that João Pedro Matos Pinto was playing with his cousins when drug dealers jumped the wall to flee from the agents, who came back shooting and hit the young man in the belly. Police say the teenager was hit during a confrontation with these criminals.
After Joao was shot, he was taken in a helicopter under the guise of receiving medical care, but none of his family knew where he was being transported to or was allowed with him. The family then began an overnight search, checking local hospitals and police stations and creating a campaign on social networks with the hashtag “#procurasejoaopedro” (Find Joao Pedro). They only reported having found his body the following day at the Legal Medical Institute of the city. An investigation into his murder is ongoing.
Minneapolis, Minnesota – On Memorial Day, a convenience store clerk called the police to allege that a customer — George Floyd — had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Two Minneapolis Police officers arrived on the scene and identified George Floyd in a car parked near the store as matching the suspect’s description and additional police officers arrived on the scene.
Surveillance video from a restaurant obtained by the Washington Post shows police pulling George Floyd, already handcuffed, out of a car parked across from Cup Foods and walking him over to the side of a building. Video taken by a bystander shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes as he struggles, telling officers he can’t breathe and calling out for his mother. Three other police officers stand by while bystanders can be heard pleading for the police to let up on Floyd, who eventually went limp. Floyd was pronounced dead at 9:25pm, according to a Hennepin County Medical Examiner report that listed his cause of death as under investigation. He was 46 years old.
The next morning, the Minneapolis Police Department announced in a press release that a man had died after a “medical incident during police interaction” and claimed that Floyd was resisting arrest. The four officers who were involved were placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation and the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis released a statement promising to fully support the officers involved while encouraging a measured response from the public.
In an unprecedented move likely influenced by the public outcry upon seeing the video of Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced the firing of all four officers on Tuesday afternoon. People continued to press for arrests and charges to be filed against the offending officers.
On Wednesday, the names of the four officers involved were released to the public: Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.
The officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes was identified as Derek Chauvin, and he had been with the police department for 19 years. After his name was released, it surfaced that Chauvin had been involved in several officer-involved shootings and had several complaints filed against him. Tou Thao went through the police academy in 2009, was laid off and re-joined in 2012, and was sued for use of force in 2017. The case was settled out of court for $25,000.
Chauvin was arrested on Friday, four days after the video implicating him in George Floyd’s murder was released. He was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Hennepin County Medical Examiner conducted a preliminary autopsy report that claimed “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” and that “the combined effects of Mr. Floyd being arrested by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death.”
An independent autopsy was conducted at the request of Floyd’s family and on Monday, June 1st concluded that Floyd’s cause of death was “asphyxiation from sustained pressure.”
Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights has filed a discrimination complaint and launched an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department.
On Wednesday, June 3, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that his office was elevating the charges against Derek Chauvin from 3rd-degree murder to 2nd degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison. The three other former officers involve face new charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Note: We have chosen not to share the videos of George Floyd’s murder because we believe that video evidence should not be necessary to believe Black people and do our part to protect Black lives.
Artwork by @tendervirgofarts
Protests, Riots, and Rebellions
It was the video of George Floyd’s murder and the slow response to charge the involved officers that encouraged many people to protest over the last week. Protests began in Minneapolis, but in the days that followed hundreds of protests broke out across the states and internationally. While most demonstrations have remained peaceful, tensions between police and protesters have led to violent confrontations in several cities.
Riots and lootings have largely been blamed on protestors, despite the fact that many of the people participating in these public demonstrations insist that police officers and outside agitators are the ones inciting violence. Several states have deployed the National Guard and outfitted police officers in riot gear, which has only served to heighten tensions and resulted in many protestors, reporters, and innocent bystanders being harmed by tear gas, rubber bullets, and direct violence from law enforcement. Early curfews have been set in many cities, which some people argue is another way to criminalize working class people.
All of these tensions have been further escalated by President Trump who threatened protestors via tweet, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a quote that has since been attributed to a racist white Miami police chief named Walter Headley who targeted black people in 1967 ahead of the Republican convention. Twitter removed the tweet for “glorifying violence.” Trump also forcefully removed protestors at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., instructing law enforcement to disperse protestors with rubber bullets and flash-hand grenades for a photo opportunity. Although Democrat and Conservative politicians, faith and community leaders, and foreign leaders have condemned his actions, Trump has only doubled-down in his racist rhetoric, threatening to call on the military if state and local officials refuse to activate the National Guard.
It should be noted that riots and rebellions have been used throughout history to pressure governments and enact sweeping societal changes. For example, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, riots occurred in over 100 cities across the nation in the biggest display of social unrest since the Civil War. This period of unrest has since been named the “Holy Week Uprising.” After six days of riots, the Civil Rights Act, which includes the Fair Housing Act, was passed by a wide margin on April 10, 1968. These riots also influenced 1968 presidential campaigns and radicalized many people who would go on to join the Black Panther Party.
Some people are focusing on the destruction of property in their arguments against protests, however, it must be asked what is a priority during this time – property that can and will be rebuilt and merchandise that can be replaced, or, dismantling systemic racial violence? What cannot be replaced or resurrected are the Black lives that have been lost to systemic racial violence. As people become more intentional about where they spend their money, many have been analyzing corporate responses to the protests as well as their records with Black and underprivileged communities. Target was one of the major retail stores hit during the lootings and is headquartered in Minneapolis. Although Target’s CEO released a statement that seemed to suggest siding with the protestors, others have pointed out that the corporation has a history of cooperation with the Minneapolis Police Department and using their Minneapolis location as a testing center for loss prevention strategies at the expense of locals.
It’s important to recognize that the violence that claimed the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Joao Pedro, and George Floyd is systemic. There have been national and international efforts aimed at ending systemic police violence and reforming police departments for several years now, with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in the summer of 2013 marking the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although Trayvon’s murder represents an important turning point, it’s also important to acknowledge that police departments have been systematically and disproportionately targeting and brutalizing Black people since their inception. It’s the ability to easily record police officers on cellular devices that has allowed the general public to see what had been happening in Black communities for centuries.
This is why many activists are calling on governments to defund the police. It’s about understanding that officers like Derek Chauvin are not “bad apples,” but very much aligned with the values of their police department, which are rooted in upholding white supremacy. Considering that police departments are paid for by citizens’ taxes, we deserve to have a say in how they patrol our neighborhoods and keep us safe.
For more information on the racist history of policing and why we must defund the police, check out these links:
What Can I Do?
1. Amplify Black activists and leaders who are already doing this work and donate whenever possible.
1a. This means not criticizing the way that anti-racist activists fight against systemic racial violence. Qualifying statements like: “I support Black lives, but I don’t agree with the destruction of property” are unhelpful AND harmful. In saying this, you are essentially confirming that you value property over Black lives. Please refer to our links on the history of riots and looting for more information.
Donate and support organizations like:
BLACK LIVES MATTER *consider donating to your local chapter
Led by Black Lives Matter LA, supported by white people 4 Black lives.
The Okra Project is a collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black Trans people by bringing home cooked, healthy, and culturally specific meals and resources to Black Trans People wherever we can reach them.
National Bail Out is a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration.
Works alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities. Chakrubs is a Detroit-based company!
Combats mass incarceration through their National Revolving Bail Fund.
Black, trans, & queer led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression & violence, & shifting the public narrative to create transformative, long-term change.
Coalition that advocates for & invests in community-led safety initiatives in Minneapolis Neighborhoods.
Here is a larger list of places to donate as well as Black-owned businesses:
2. Dismantle your internalized racism and the ways in which you uphold white supremacy on an individual level.
3. Learn your role.
Each of us has a valuable role to play in the fight to dismantle white supremacy and reform police departments. Some of us are meant to be on the front lines protesting, while others will be storytellers, artists, reporters, healers, financial supporters, etc. Explore the ways that you personally can contribute to this movement.
As a queer Black woman, I want to acknowledge that those of us who are directly impacted by this violence cannot self-care our pain away. This is a pain that clouds our everyday existence and that we are never privileged enough to ignore. It is my hope that these tips can act as coping methods and make moving through this world a little bit easier.
Please note that the following coping methods are specifically geared towards Black people, but all are welcome to take what works:
- Become intimately aware of who is a true ally in your life, reduce or eliminate contact with those who are not truly invested in protecting Black lives, and lean into your relationships with Black people.
- White people who consider themselves allies should understand that their Black friends still might not feel safe sharing their fears and anxieties with them. Do not pressure your Black friends who appear to have taken a step back from your friendship and be mindful of projecting additional fears and anxieties onto them. Do not take this personally and instead use it as an opportunity to reflect on how you can be a better ally and redirect that energy towards supporting the cause.
- Create group texts and email chains and schedule meetings with friends that can act as safe spaces for sharing fears, supporting each other, and finding joy. This is particularly important as many of us are feeling isolated during the pandemic.
- Be mindful of where your energy begins and ends. Especially since we are consuming so much information via technology, it can be difficult to recognize when we are holding onto emotions that are not ours. I recommend grounding for a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day. It can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, tuning into your body, and saying, “I call all parts of myself back to me and I release anything that is not mine and that does not serve me.”
- Set boundaries with how much information you consume and where you’re getting it from. This could look like making a commitment not to check news sites between certain hours or being intentional about signing off of social media at a certain time. You can also be explicit with friends about when you’re available to discuss current events so that they don’t relay information to you when you’re not in a good place to receive it.
- Reaffirm your right to experience pleasure and joy. Remember that stress and tension can lower the immune system and we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. Drink plenty of water and make sure you’re taking time to rest. Remember the simple things that bring you joy that cannot be taken away and indulge in them as much as possible.