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George Floyd's Impact On The Fight For Racial Justice

May 25, 2021
Originally published on May 28, 2021 4:44 pm
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Since his killing one year ago, George Floyd, his image and name - well, he's become a symbol; a symbol of the problem of police misconduct and violence specifically and, more broadly, of the racial reckoning in the U.S. Galvanized by his death, millions took to the streets last summer in some of the largest protests in U.S. history...





CORNISH: ...Chanting his name...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: What do we want?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: When do we want it?


CORNISH: ...Chanting calls to action. Calls that have been answered, most notably, in the conviction of his killer, Derek Chauvin, and in legislation now working its way through Congress. Attorney Andrea Ritchie, who studies police misconduct, says Floyd's death ignited decades of upset over police violence as far back as the beating and arrest of Rodney King.

ANDREA RITCHIE: I think the outrage grows each time. And so certainly, the outrage around the killing of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland sort of brought us to a current level in the movement for Black lives, building on previous movements. And then this killing built on three or four in Minneapolis. And so people really, at that point, I think, reached a crisis point.

CORNISH: It's uncommon to see police officers charged, much less convicted in these fatal killings. In this case, Derek Chauvin was convicted on multiple counts of murder. Can you talk about the consequences for that in such a high-profile case? Meaning, what do people take away in this case when they see a conviction?

RITCHIE: So the consequence, I think, is that people then think that the system is working as it should when in fact, thousands of officers get away with killing people without consequences every year in this country. And so I think it also reduces the issue to one individual police officer and one individual person who was harmed when in fact, George Floyd was killed by the entire Minneapolis police department in many respects. And for me, the concern is that people will assume that justice has been done and we can move on when in fact, that's not the case.

CORNISH: So then let's talk symbolism. Given what you've just said, both about the victim of this crime and also now the person convicted of this murder, what does it mean to have George Floyd's case be the case that has defined the movement for Black lives over this past year?

RITCHIE: It really encapsulates the impunity of police, their imperviousness to reform, the criminalization of poverty, the ways in which the war on drugs is mobilized to justify Black death. So I think that there's no question that this murder became emblematic for a number of reasons and that it points to many systemic issues that need to be addressed, including, as Minneapolis organizers have pointed out, the vast resources that go into the killing machine that is the Minneapolis police department and the need to dismantle that department and to move those resources into programs and meeting folks' material needs in ways that will produce genuine and lasting safety. So for me, that's what the case has come to mean in Minneapolis and across the country. And I think we also cannot treat George Floyd's murder as a singular, catastrophic event, as sort of a failure of policing that's otherwise working.

CORNISH: But do we miss out on hearing other cases, right? As the media lends its focus with such intensity to certain cases, who are we not learning about? What is happening in the meantime?

RITCHIE: I agree. I think, again, you know, George Floyd's murder deserves all of the attention it received and more. And we need to place it within the broader frame of the ongoing pandemic of police violence against Black people - and that it does take the form of these spectacular killings, but also this everyday, routinized violence that can be, you know, physical violence, sexual assault, strip searches, cavity searches, stop and frisk, routine criminalization and harassment. And once we expand our frame to see George Floyd's murder in that larger context, then more stories of Black women, of Black trans people, of Black gender-nonconforming people come into view. So for instance, then we would think of a young woman named Zoya Code, whose neck Derek Chauvin knelt on in 2017 during a response to a domestic violence call, no less. And fortunately, she lived to tell the tale. But if we had listened to that tale more closely, maybe George Floyd would still be here. I think that's the lesson to take away, is that we have to zoom out and look at these cases and the broader context in which they're happening and the things that are inherent to policing that are precursors.

CORNISH: That's Andrea Ritchie, author of the book "Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women And Women Of Color."

Thank you for your time.

RITCHIE: Thanks so much for having me.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: May 28, 2021In this report, attorney Andrea Ritchie asserts that "thousands of officers get away with killing people without consequences every year in this country." While there's no reliable data to determine how many officers participate in killing members of the U.S. public annually, data suggests that police kill about 1,000 people a year. Ritchie's assertion that the officers get away "without consequences" is also challenging to prove. When we heard concerns after the interview, we contacted Ritchie to ask her to explain her assertion, and she said she meant without arrest or prosecution. According to the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, since 2005, 142 officers have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in the shooting and killing of someone while on duty. Philip Stinson, who leads this research, says 44 out of those 142 officers have been convicted of a crime: Seven officers were ultimately convicted of murder, 23 of varying degrees of manslaughter and five of varying levels of homicide, and the others were charged with lesser offenses. Officers also face other consequences, including being fired, demoted or placed on leave, which are not tracked nationally and are difficult to quantify.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.