Photos: Courtesy of DC Spotlight Newspaper
September 23, 2020
Jacob Hollifield, News Writer
Wendy Thompson, Editor-in-chief
As coronavirus deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States topped 100,000 and unemployment rates continued to climb past 13%, the last thing the country needed was more division. However, after video footage of George Floyd — a black man in Minneapolis — and his arrest surfaced on the internet, protests erupted across the country and eventually across the world. The footage, released just 11 days after video evidence of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery surfaced, further stoked the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement across the globe and sparked an international cry for police reform. In the past months, the White House has been under fire from the impeachment to President Trump’s delayed response to the coronavirus.
On June 1st, Trump’s public relations reached a crescendo as he unleashed what he referred to as “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property” in Washington, D.C.
Then the president addressed the press and the perimeter of the White House was widened by police, who met protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas, clearing a path for Trump to walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church. It was here that he paid respects to the church that had been earlier vandalized and posed for multiple photos while holding a Bible alongside senior White House officials. The fallout from Trump’s actions was swift. Joint Chief of Staff chairman Mark Milley, who was with Trump on that day, has publicly apologized for his role in the Trump photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church and even said he considered resigning thereafter. As the nation’s top military officer, Milley’s presence sparked a national conversation on the role of the military in civil society.
In the public apology, Milley said, “We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation. And we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic.” On seeing the spectacle at the church, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and spokesperson for the St. John’s Episcopal Church stated, “This was a charade that in some ways was meant to bolster a message that does nothing to calm the soul and assure the nation that we can recover from this moment, which is what we need from a president.”
Still, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the nation’s cities to demand that the killers of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Arbery be held accountable, regardless of their authority. As the investigations, funerals, and time of mourning for the unjust murders moved into the country’s periphery, there are 5 crucial takeaways that can be learned from their deaths and the nation’s response.
- Changes to the police system in Minneapolis and beyond.
- With the peak of the protests behind, many are asking about the impact they will have moving forward. Prevention is on the forefront of the national conversation, as the public and politicians want to keep similar events in the future from happening. In the wake of Floyd’s death, Minneapolis is making changes to their law enforcement system by taking strides towards defunding and reforming the police department. While the city council has not specified the ways in which they plan on redesigning law enforcement, they have voiced efforts to do so. A more social services-based approach would see trained professionals dispatched for mental health calls rather than armed, militant police officers.
- Recognition of the Black Lives Matter Movement
- In the wake of the murders of Arbery, Taylor and Floyd, the BLM Movement has gained traction across the globe. In addition to the protests in the U.S., cities worldwide, such as Vancouver, Berlin, London, Vienna, Jerusalem, Paris and countless others countries such as Syria, New Zealand and the Netherlands have banded together in support of the BLM Movement. Early last week, Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser approved the renaming of 16th Street NW to Black Lives Matter Plaza leading to the White House to exist as a national symbol of BLM recognition. The street now dons 30 ft tall painted letters spanning two blocks. Similar street murals have popped up in cities such as Charlotte, Denver, Austin and San Francisco reflecting national support of the BLM Movement.
- Biden’s charge forward in the 2020 presidential campaign
- In an interview with “CBS Evening News,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden acknowledged systemic racism in law enforcement and beyond. While he does not support defunding the police, he did say, “I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.” This may appear vague, but it is attention given to the BLM Movement’s agenda that has not been addressed by President Trump and shows an effort to make positive change rather than suppress those who attempt to make positive change. While Biden called for a federal ban on police chokeholds, and for the Department of Justice to be granted more power to investigate local police departments, Trump has remained hesitant to appease the BLM Movement and their demands.
- Instead, the president resorted to name-calling, threats and over-reaching by calling out the military to descind on peaceful protesters in the nation’s capital. As Biden’s polling lead over Trump widens, the BLM Movement has called for the presumptive nominee to name a woman of color as vice-president to his ticket, which could provide him with another surge in the polls.
- Trump administration sees loss of support from Republican Party.
- As the coronavirus continues to run rampant through the country and protestors gather outside of the White House, Trump’s national approval is slipping. Over the month of May, there were more than 40 national public polls conducted regarding the Biden-Trump election, and Biden led in all 40 polls. Trump has also seen disapproval from his own party, particularly from his handling of protestors and his disbelief in the severity of the coronavirus.
- Once a Republican Party nominee, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has long criticized the president’s tone with the public and was seen participating in BLM protests last week. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has said that she is considering not supporting Trump in the 2020 election. Murkowski, a Republican, said “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.” The former defense secretary Jim Mattis has also commented on Trump’s response to the protests and Milley’s presence at the photo-op in writing, “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.” He continued, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people– does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us.” These Republican responses to the violence spewing from the Trump administration have resonated with most Americans and made the point that being anti-racism does not have to be measured politically, but it will be measured by humanity.
- Further emphasis placed on the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others
- After Arbery was shot on February 23 in Brunswick by Gregory and Travis McMichael, it was clearly the two murderer’s words against the words of Arbery’s family regarding what transpired between them. Then the video taken by the McMichael’s neighbor surfaced in May, resulting in a call for their arrest.
- On March 13, Louisville police entered Taylor’s apartment under a “no knock” warrant, bursting into her home without knocking. The police’s unexpected entry was met with gunfire from Taylor’s boyfriend, who was a licensed gun owner and believed the officers were intruders. In the crossfire, 26-year-old Taylor was killed by the officers. Taylor’s death and the arrest of the McMichaels initiated a chain of calls for the arrests of the law enforcement officers that killed the two unarmed black civilians that lost their lives between February and May. Following the arrest of those responsible for the death of Floyd, national protests widened to include Taylor and the calls for the arrest of the officers who are responsible for her death increased.
Since the death of George Floyd, both white and black voters have increasingly placed the issue of racism as a national crisis for Americans. While the year has already seen once-in-a-lifetime headlines, it is not over yet with the 2020 election approaching. The country has already seen changes with the introduction of Breonna’s Law, police budget cuts in cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia and the removal of Confederate statues. As November 3rd approaches, racial inequalities will likely be a major topic among both parties and the deaths of Arbery, Floyd, and Taylor will make change in politics and police procedures a priority. Finally, Floyd’s six-year-old daughter Gianna acknowledged that her father’s life was indeed significant in her statement to the press last week: “My daddy changed the world.”