As many people are aware, there have been protests around the country as well as around the world after the brutal and senseless murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday, May 25th, 2020. As the saying goes, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back—after the million other straws underneath it. The tumult and passion of the past several weeks have forced people to face the uncomfortable realities of our justice system. These protests are like nothing the United States and the world have ever seen. The last time anything close to what is currently transpiring happened in the United States was during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Although some are filled with trepidation over the protests, this movement for institutional reform gives me hope. A movement is different from a demonstration. A demonstration in the street is a prelude to a movement that engages enough people and has a clear enough goal that it has the chance to become institutionalized, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The country seems to be undergoing an awakening.
It may be that the act of the person who killed George Floyd was an aberration. But the system that he and the other police officers were a part of protects them and is as American as apple pie. What’s not entirely clear and remains to be seen is whether the country is capable of waking up that reality to its fullest extent. The system works to protect the people who are responsible for all of this at different levels, not just the officer who pulls the trigger or puts his knee on someone’s throat. What the people of this country want is to solve the problem at the level of the individual. It’s inspiring that pressure is now coming from within the system. It’s been sparked by this one event, but the event really has opened up a crevasse through which all history of injustice seems to be pouring through.
The first and foremost part of this movement is the fast-moving, highly contentious local effort to radically reform police departments. “Defund the police” is a rallying cry, but the campaign to invoke it varies widely city by city. In Minneapolis the City Council seems serious about dismantling and rebuilding law enforcement. Seattle has the police-free Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. San Francisco will stop sending officers to respond to non-criminal matters, instead dispatching health professionals and social workers. Every city is different, and each battle will be fought locally.
The movement local to California is much more significant than the reform movement taking shape in Washington, D.C. Democrats are pushing changes to federal laws that are radical according to the standards relevant two months ago—but fairly weak tea compared to local efforts. The President and Senate Republicans aren’t even offering tea, just lukewarm water in the form of quite limited reforms. Partisan dynamics ensure that the Democrats’ most ambitious reforms will fail. So, don’t pay attention to Washington, which will make a lot of noise and accomplish very little, which is typically par for the course.
The second part of this movement is the continuing, anguished protest about specific acts of violence against Black people. The police killing of Rayshard Brooks is inspiring huge demonstrations in Atlanta and ousted the police chief. Protests over the mysterious hanging death of Robert Fuller have prompted FBI investigation. These demonstrations, which focus on seeking justice in particular cases, are emotionally powerful. As we saw in the case of Floyd’s death, these protests about individual cases can become the fuel that fires protesters to seek broader reforms.
The third part of this movement is the widespread fight concerning statues, symbols, and names. Spun out of the Floyd protests, these symbolic battles have taken on a life of their own. In Virginia, college students proposed taking Stonewall Jackson’s name and image off of it. The argument over army bases named after confederate generals, the banning of the confederate flag at NASCAR events, the defacing of statues of colonialist brutes—these are part of the movement. It’s a long overdue reckoning with American history.
I am hopeful that this nationwide and worldwide movement will result in sweeping reforms to our legal system where it is desperately needed—from top to bottom and not just in the law enforcement sector of it. The American legal system is swimming in systemic racism, financial discrimination, an overly militarized police system shielded by qualified immunity, and rampant corruption. As the country watches with trepidation and hope, we are witnessing history right before our very eyes. If you want to learn more about our legal system and protect yourself against it, pick up a copy of our book at www.stloiyf.com/order.php.