Shortly after 8 p.m. on May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck and kept him there for over nine minutes. None of the other three officers standing near Chauvin intervened. Soon Floyd was dead.
Police initially gave a misleading account of Floyd’s death, and the case may have received relatively little attention without the video Darnella Frazier, 17, took on her phone. This video sparked international outrage and, by some measures, the largest protest marches in US history.
Today, a year after Floyd’s murder, we’ll take a look at the impact of the movement his death inspired in four different areas.
1. New rules for the police
More than 30 states and dozens of major cities have created new rules limiting police tactics. Two common changes: the ban on cervical braces, such as those used by Chauvin; and require the police to intervene when a colleague uses extreme force.
Most states and cities that pass these laws are run by Democrats, but not all. Kentucky, Indiana and Iowa have done it too. At the federal level, the House passed a bill named after Floyd that would limit the use of force by police and make it easier to prosecute officers for wrongdoing. The Senate did not pass any police bill.
Christy Lopez, from Georgetown University’s Innovative Policing Program, calls these changes important but preliminary: “These are really necessary first steps, but they are also small steps,” she said.
2. A focus on racism
The Black Lives Matter movement – which was revived by the murders of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others – has called for changes that go far beyond policing. The movement demanded that the country confront its structural racism.
In response, many companies and institutions have pledged to act. The National Football League has apologized for his past behavior. NASCAR has banned the Confederate Flag from its events. McDonald’s, Amazon and other companies are committed to hiring a more diverse workforce.
“Non-black employees joined with their black colleagues in demanding the hiring of more black people,” wrote Perry Bacon Jr. of the Washington Post. “So companies and institutions stopped complaining about the alleged pipelines and started looking beyond them.”
It’s still unclear how much has changed and how much of the corporate response has been public relations.
3. Changes in public opinion
Initially, public sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement exploded. But like most high profile political subjects in the 21st century United States, opinion quickly polarized along partisan lines.
Today, Republican voters are less sympathetic to Black Lives Matter than they were a year ago, political scientists Jennifer Chudy and Hakeem Jefferson have shown. Support among Democrats remains higher than it was before Floyd’s death, but is lower than immediately after.
There are a few major areas of agreement. Most Americans say they have great faith in law enforcement – even more than last June, notes Alex Samuels of FiveThirtyEight. Most also disagree with calls to “defund” or abolish police services. Yet most of the changes to policing, such as the ban on strangulations.
4. A wave of crime, much debated
It is clear that violent crime has increased over the past year. It is not entirely clear why.
Many liberals say the increase has little to do with the protest movement’s call for less aggressive police. The best evidence on this side of the debate is that violent crime was already on the rise – including in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia – before the protests. This pattern suggests that other factors, such as the pandemic and a wave of gun purchases, have played a significant role.
Many Conservatives believe the rise in crime is related to criticism of the police and point to different evidence. First, the rise in crime accelerated last summer, after the protests began – and other high-income countries have not seen similar increases. Second, this acceleration fits into a larger historical pattern: Crime has also increased in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, following the 2015 protests against police violence there, as noted by Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist and crime specialist.
“When there have been large-scale protests against the police, it’s pretty clear that some police have stopped doing their jobs, and it’s unsettling,” Sharkey told us. But that doesn’t mean the pre-protest status quo was the right approach, he stresses. Brute force police “can reduce violence, ”he said in a Q&A with The Atlantic. “But it comes with these costs that don’t create safe, strong or stable communities in the long run.”
Some reform supporters fear that the rise in crime will rebuild support for harsh police tactics and prison terms. “Fear makes people go back to their old ways,” Lopez said.
The big question
How can police officers both prevent crime and behave less violently so that they kill fewer Americans in the line of duty?
Some experts say officers should focus on hot spots where most crime occurs. Others suggest training officers to defuse situations more often. Still others recommend removing certain responsibilities from the police – such as roadside checks and mental health interventions – to reduce the risk of violence.
So far, the changes do not appear to have affected the number of police murders. Throughout the past weekend, police continued to kill about three Americans a day on average, virtually the same as before Floyd’s murder.
A timeline of the events of the past year.
President Biden will meet with members of the Floyd family at the White House today. Follow the updates here on the anniversary.
THE LAST NEWS
First mentions of famous authors
To help commemorate its 125th anniversary, The Times Book Review highlights some notable early mentions from famous writers. You can find the full list here. Some of our favorites:
F. Scott Fitzgerald: In 1916, Princeton was only admitting men, and they often played female roles in campus plays. The Times featured a photo of Fitzgerald in character, calling her “the most beautiful showgirl.”
Patricia Highsmith: In 1939, the novelist appeared in an article on a “Greek Games” competition between Barnard’s students: “A messenger, Joan Roth, rushed to say that Persephone was still alive and that a happy group was dancing. Eight glasses circled in front of the crowd. to distract Demeter, still inconsolable. Highsmith was among the acrobatic students.
Ralph Ellison: In 1950, two years before the publication of “Invisible Man”, Ellison reviewed a novel called “Stranger and Alone” by J. Saunders Redding. Ellison wrote that Saunders “presents many aspects of middle-class southern black life for the first time in fiction.
John Updike: Acclaimed novelist who had yet to publish a novel, Updike appeared in a consultancy article in 1958, encouraging parents to teach their children complex words. “A long and correct word is exciting for a child,” he said. “Makes them laugh; my daughter never says “rhinoceros” without laughing. – Sanam Yar, a morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangrams were apolitical, capitol, occipital, optic, political and topical. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.
Here are today’s mini-crosswords and a hint: comedian Silverman (five letters).
If you want to play more, find all of our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. – David
PS The first “Star Wars” movie premiered 44 years ago today. Vincent Canby’s Times review called it “the most elaborate, expensive and beautiful film series ever made.”
You can see the first printed page of the day here.
“The Daily” concerns a student freedom of expression case. On “Sway”, Eliot Higgins talks about Bellingcat journalism.
Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can join the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up here to receive this newsletter in your inbox.