While mourners filed past George Floyd’s body in a Free Will Baptist church in his hometown of Raeford, N.C., just 12 days after he was killed under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, tens of thousands of people across the country and around the world came together to protest his death.
They shut down part of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and they shut down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. They marched past U.S. President Donald Trump’s hotel in Manhattan, waving Black Lives Matter signs, and they marched under the gaze of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. They gathered in the rain in Parliament Square in London, and they rallied in front of JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo.
After many days of unrest, police beating protesters, police shoving elderly people, and police arresting journalists, for the first time in a generation — or perhaps in history — the civil rights of Black people appear to finally matter to almost everyone.
The world has reached a boiling point.
In London, protesters clashed with police on horseback and sat in silence in front of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s home, calling attention to the Conservative leader’s history of racist remarks. In Berlin, thousands packed Alexanderplatz in the city’s center, wielding signs with English slogans: “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “Germany is not innocent.” In Paris, a crowd formed outside the U.S. embassy, despite officials banning protests over fears of the coronavirus, while another unsanctioned rally took place near the Eiffel Tower.
“I find it scandalous that all these injustices go unpunished,” one 21-year-old Senegalese Ivorian student told France24 amid a crowd of people holding up signs that read “Being black is not a crime” and “Our police are assassins.”
At least 100 people marched in Seoul through the city’s central district, demanding that South Koreans “form an alliance” to combat racism in one of the world’s most ethnically homogeneous nations. In Tokyo, protests took on a local flare as demonstrators condemned a May 22 incident in which Japanese police stopped and shoved a 33-year-old Kurdish man to the ground. The demonstrators also picketed outside Twitter’s Japan office to denounce the suspension of an antiracism account.
“I feel very sad,” Tomohiko Tsurumi, 43, who joined the march with his wife, told Reuters. “I always thought of this country as very safe and I realized that there is so much [police action] we cannot see.”
In Brazil, where the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro draws frequent parallels to the United States, hundreds of people marched in the northeastern city of Recife to protest the death of Miguel da Silva, a Black 5-year-old who fell Tuesday from a ninth-story high-rise where his mother, a maid, was working. Protesters cried “Vidas negras importam” — “Black lives matter” — while criticizing the white employer whom da Silva’s mother had entrusted with looking after the boy.
While Saturday’s protests were mostly peaceful yet passionate, throughout the day, Trump largely ignored this reality and tweeted “LAW & ORDER!” on Saturday evening.
Affecting Change, Albeit Lightly
Some states are taking steps to walk back some of the harsher tactics that police have used during protests. In Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was killed by police, the state has already withdrawn its curfew and is sending state troopers and National Guard members home. The city on Friday also announced an agreement to ban police from using chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring officers who witness such uses of force to intervene and file a report.
However, after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told protestors on Saturday that he would not commit to defunding the city’s police department, he was forced to leave a rally to resounding chants of, “Go home, Jacob. Go home,” and “Shame, shame, shame.”
In other cities, efforts are already underway to try and limit police use of rubber bullets and tear gas, after images of police officers using the weapons on often peaceful protestors elicited outrage. In Philadelphia, four council members are asking police to refrain from using rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray on demonstrators. In California, a group of lawmakers is set to introduce legislation outlining when officers can use rubber bullets. There, the governor has already called for police to reform how they treat protesters.
“Protesters have the right not to be harassed,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday. “Protesters have the right to protest peacefully. Protesters have the right to do so without being arrested, gassed or shot at by projectiles.”
Spurring Cultural Change
Beyond police reforms, the protests also seem to be spurring some cultural changes. On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for the league’s past treatment of players who spoke out against racism, saying the league believes “Black lives matter.”
The apology did not name Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who in 2016 started kneeling during the national anthem to peacefully protest police brutality against Black people. Kaepernick has not played since the end of that season and has accused the league of colluding to keep him from getting signed to a team in reaction to his protests.
Goodell, instead, spoke in generalities about past wrongs committed by the league.
“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people,” Goodell said in a filmed statement. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”
Also on Friday, the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, had “Black Lives Matter” painted in giant yellow letters on 16th Street. She also renamed the street in front of the White House to Black Lives Matter Plaza. While photos and videos of this act of defiance went viral, the D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter criticized Bowser on Twitter.
“This is a performative distraction from real policy changes,” the group wrote. “This is to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands. Black Lives Matter means defund the police.”
Holding The Police Accountable
Such calls fell flat earlier on Thursday when the city council of Buffalo, N.Y., voted 6-3 to fully fund the police budget. That same day, two police officers in Buffalo shoved a lone 75-year-old man to the ground, leaving him ― as seen in a widely circulated video – unconscious with blood pooling under his head.
On Saturday, the officers ― Aaron Torgalski, 39, and Robert McCabe, 32 ― pleaded not guilty to assault charges. At least 57 fellow officers resigned from an emergency response team to protest the department’s decision to discipline their colleagues.
In Minneapolis, however, lawmakers took a different tack. The city’s schools and parks on Thursday began the process of cutting ties with the police department. On Friday, the city council started rallying behind calls to “dismantle” the police department and “replace it with a transformative new model of public safety.”
He Sparked The Fuse
While the world was using the death of George Floyd to push for change on Saturday, mourners near his hometown were gathering to pay their respects. An intimate memorial service was held for Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, about 25 miles away from his birthplace. There, a gold casket held his remains, according to CNN.
At the memorial service, Rev. Christopher D. Stackhouse gave a eulogy remembering Floyd as a “gentle giant” and detailing how his death has already changed the world.
“A movement is happening in America, and I’m glad that all of us get to say that it was George Floyd who sparked the fuse,” Stackhouse said. “It was George Floyd who sparked the fuse that is going to change this nation.”