The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the fervent protests that erupted in response around the world seemed to many observers the necessary catalyst for a national assessment of police racism.
For more than nine minutes, a white officer pressed his knee against the neck of Floyd, a black man, who gasped “I can’t breathe,” an echo of Eric Garner’s last words in 2014. Video footage of Floyd’s murder , on May 25, 2020, were so agonizing to watch that demands for a change poured in from all over the United States.
No police reform
But amid the deadly novel coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and a divisive US presidential election, 2020 ended without the kind of major police reforms that many hoped for and others feared. Then 2021 and 2022 didn’t yield much progress either.
Now, three years after Floyd’s murder, advocates of federal actions — like banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, as well as changing so-called qualified immunity protections for law enforcement — are still waiting for signs of change.
“When people casually, and I think too often, say we’re in the middle of some kind of racial probing, I don’t see evidence of that,” Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, said during a recent news conference called by a Black Lives Matter collective.
To be clear, racial justice activists and their advocates in elected office have not slowed down. But the beating to death of Tire Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers in early January underscored just how long it takes to achieve meaningful change.
“I don’t play with words like ‘assess’,” Pressley said. “That has to be something of epic proportions. And we certainly haven’t seen a response to the lynching, suffocation, brutality (and) murder of black people.”
What happened in Minneapolis?
Shortly after Floyd’s murder, Minneapolis adopted a series of changes, including a ban on the use of chokeholds and neck restraints—tactics that make it difficult for air or blood flow—and requirements that officers try to prevent your peers use force inappropriately. Minnesota lawmakers just this month approved packages of police accountability in the state in 2020 and 2021, as well as strict restrictions on warrants without first knocking on the door.
The city is still awaiting the results of a federal investigation into whether its police have engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional or illegal policing. A similar inquiry by the state Department of Human Rights led to what it called “a court-approved settlement agreement” in March to reform the city’s police.
The federal investigation could lead to a similar but separate agreement with the city called a consent decree. Police in several other cities already operate under such supervision for civil rights violations.
Activists say Minneapolis has begun making fundamental changes, but the work needed to transform policing must continue.
There were also immediate demands to defund the police — and instead fund public housing, infrastructure, and mental health services. But a ballot measure that had roots in that movement failed even in some largely black neighborhoods.
An Associated Press review of police funding found that some municipalities elsewhere made modest cuts that fell short of activist calls.
What’s on in Minneapolis this week?
Minneapolis activists plan to mark the anniversary with a candlelight vigil Thursday night at George Floyd Plaza, the corner where Floyd died. A festival in the square will celebrate the change in Minneapolis on Saturday.
What happened to the agents?
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who killed Floyd, and the three other officers who failed to stop Chauvin during the incident, are in prison. Chauvin was sentenced in state court to 22 1/2 years in prison for second-degree murder. Two of the other three officers pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter and received shorter sentences, while the third officer was also convicted on that charge by a judge and is still awaiting sentencing.
Chauvin pleaded guilty in addition to a federal civil rights charge and admitted that keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck caused Floyd’s death. In that case, he received a concurrent sentence of 21 years. The other three police officers were also convicted of violating Floyd’s rights and received much shorter sentences.
What happened after the protests?
Protests against racial violence and police brutality erupted around the world after Floyd’s murder, reigniting the Black Lives Matter movement. Videos of US police officers using tear gas and less-lethal munitions such as rubber bullets circulated on social media, fueling calls for accountability. Such accountability has so far largely come in the form of civil settlements.
New York City found that 146 officers committed misconduct during the protests, including excessive force and violence, such as an officer driving a car into protesters. Independent reviews in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles also revealed that those departments did not respond adequately.
In some cities, a handful of officers have been laid off. Some faced criminal charges: In Austin, Texas, 19 police officers were indicted by a grand jury, but few have been convicted.
Minneapolis has agreed to pay millions of dollars in settlements with people who alleged they were the victims of excessive police force during the riots that followed Floyd’s murder, which included burning down a police station. But few officers faced disciplinary action.
what happens at the federal level?
In 2020, the George Floyd Police Justice Act, a federal law, showed some promising signs. He will ban chokeholds and warrants for your arrest without first knocking on the door, like the one that allowed Louisville police officers to kill Breonna Taylor. It will also create a database with a list of police officers who have been disciplined for serious misconduct, among other measures.
The following year, the House of Representatives approved it, but the Senate failed to reach a consensus.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order applying key elements of the bill to federal law enforcement. On Thursday, Biden renewed his call on Congress to act to bring about “real and lasting change at the state and local levels.”
“I urge Congress to enact meaningful police reform and send it to my desk. I will sign it,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to do everything in my power to fight in Congress for police accountability, and I remain willing to work with Republicans and Democrats alike on genuine solutions.”
Meanwhile, Pressley, the Massachusetts congresswoman, is pushing the Termination of Qualified Immunity Act, a measure she has introduced every year since 2020.
What about the Floyd family?
Over the past three years, relatives of George Floyd have turned up at rallies and have spoken out against police violence. Within days of his brother’s death, Philonise Floyd testified at a congressional hearing on police reform.
As Floyd’s relatives and reform advocates urged changes to the law, George Floyd’s youngest daughter, Gianna Floyd, met Biden at the White House in 2021. The photo of a Marine who held open the door to the 7-year-old girl went viral.
Terrence Floyd, who lives in New York City, became an activist after his brother’s murder and planned to hold the third annual memorial event at a Harlem church on Thursday night. He has supported efforts to get people to vote and promoted music in tribute to his brother.
“You have to have faith that it will happen, because it didn’t happen overnight for Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. It didn’t happen overnight for Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson,” he said of the Significant Social Change: “You can’t expect it to happen overnight for us, but it will happen.”