George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis on 25 May. In video footage captured by witnesses, he can clearly be heard crying out for help, unable to struggle while police officers pin him to the ground, choking him to death.
One week later, protests against the killing of Floyd, and against the wider issue of systemic police brutality, have not ended. In fact, in many places, protesters have been met with much of the same brutality. Even against this, crowds have grown larger, taking hold of the attention of black people and their allies, in different countries around the world.
A moment-by-moment documentation of Floyd’s killing has been brilliantly compiled by the New York Times. I encourage those looking for clarity on the incident itself to watch the video here.
As a man born to a black father, firstly, and Editor of this magazine, secondly, I feel duty-bound to enter this conversation. To think on the hurt that has been felt by black people and those who stand with them around the world, and to reflect on the words of those who have spoken out in the last week.
Though No Majesty is based in London, UK, this magazine receives hundreds of visitors from the United States every day. Over the last few years, we have published the views of those living in the United States, about the struggle to feel in control when looking at the events one sees in the news every day, and about the experience of having a leader who does not and will not lift you up.
For years, black people have suffered injustice at the hands of police officers, and for years, there have been protests. I wholeheartedly believe that each one of these protests brings us closer to making a change, and that every protester, who genuinely wants a change in their world, is an essential part of creating it.
Often, it seems inevitable that the greater the outrage felt, the more violent the protest against the issue becomes.
Michael Render, also known as rapper Killer Mike, took to a podium in Atlanta on Saturday asking citizens not to destroy their city, but instead to ‘plot, plan, strategise, organise and mobilise’ for political change.
“So I am duty bound to be here, to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge, in times of organisation. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategise, organise and mobilise.”
– Michael Render, aka Killer Mike
Protests around the world have been met, in general, with sympathy, and in many cases those who hear the tale of last week’s incident decide to join the demonstration. There are many still, however, who choose to question the response of these protesters.
The biggest global health crisis seen in a generation is still happening. Since Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill, every headline can in some way relate to the pandemic. And yet, the story of George Floyd’s killing broke through, and became the headline story of most publications around the world.
The fact that thousands of protesters have taken to the streets during this pandemic, and many are likely to be breaking social distancing rules, is causing great anxiety for many. This is understandable. When every story involves keeping a distance, worrying about the future, and seeing those suffering from a contagious disease, it’s only natural to keep that as your priority.
There will always be problems with protest. By its very definition, protest brings a halt to many aspects of life. For this reason, it is almost always necessary to work within a system in order to bring about change. One recent article by Barack Obama sums this point up nicely. In it, the former president outlines his concerns around violent protest — though the first paragraphs note his deep understanding of it — and he offers a solution that he argues may be more effective.
“So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
– Barack Obama, ‘How to make this moment the turning point for real change’
Powerlessness, a feeling that you cannot control what you see with your own eyes, can slowly create an overwhelming feeling of anxiety, anger, and fear.
As people, we can choose not to agree with others. We can agree with their sentiment, and still oppose their way of expressing their view. We can also choose to understand their pain, whichever way they express that.
The fact that people take to the streets in their thousands, side by side, at a time when we are told to stay apart, is evidence of pain. Evidence of a desperate need to voice anger at a system which has failed somebody once again, and taken their life.
Change is hard to come by, especially when voices expressing the need for it are in the ‘minority’. The support of different voices, those of different backgrounds and experiences, is incredibly valuable, and I feel incredibly grateful to see people I know of different skin tones joining this journey.
I feel grateful for loud voices, such as Killer Mike, Barack Obama, and others who use their platform to spread a message. I feel grateful for quiet voices, the conversations I have with loved ones, and the dozens of creative beings that add to the collective conversation every day, here and elsewhere.
We are going through pain. But pain, when there is a collective effort to understand it, can lead to incredible change, the likes of which can ease the pain of future generations.
Dan Cody is Editor-in-Chief at No Majesty.