Three years after George Floyd's murder, is America in a better place?
“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.
Thursday marks the three-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, the 46-year-old man who died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin drove his knee into the neck of Floyd for more than nine minutes until Floyd’s once animated body became limp. In the weeks and months following the killing, which galvanized millions across the world, U.S. companies pledged billions to combat racial justice and invest in Black-owned businesses, universities promised new facilities to highlight their commitment to ending systemic racism and law enforcement departments committed to reform.
However, three years later, critics question how much real progress has been made.
“I think there was a lot of smoke and mirrors in the aftermath of George Floyd being murdered,” Nekima Armstrong, a civil rights lawyer, activist and longtime Minneapolis resident, told Yahoo News. “A lot of companies have not followed through on their commitment, while others have come through, but low-income Black folks continue to get the low end of the stick. We didn’t see the resources trickle into our community.”
The lightning rod moment came at a time when America found itself in transition. Just months into a pandemic that shuttered Americans into their homes, video of the incident captured by a bystander of Floyd, who was Black, and Chauvin, who is white, quickly went viral, setting off shockwaves of anger and widespread calls for change across the country.
Upwards of 26 million people around the U.S. participated in racial justice protests as pundits and politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum — from Fox News’ Sean Hannity to MSNBC’s Joy Reid — came together to condemn what was seen on the video.
Three years later, the country finds itself again in transition. Many are gearing up for another contentious presidential election season as the country readjusts to what life looks like with the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview.
This comes as police departments across the country struggle to retain officers and many Black Americans, particularly Black business owners, accuse companies of not fulfilling their promises, using the racial justice issue for good optics while doing little to improve the lives of Black Americans.
President Biden on Thursday said Floyd's murder was a sobering reminder of the immediacy needed to address challenges across institutions in America.
"George Floyd’s murder exposed for many what Black and Brown communities have long known and experienced — that we must make a whole of society commitment to ensure that our Nation lives up to its founding promise of fair and impartial justice for all under the law," Biden said in a statement.
“The folks who were in George Floyd’s economic class did not receive the support nor police reform they expected and they continue to see lack of access, especially upward mobility,” Armstrong said. “It’s a big part of the problem, but it’s an American problem. We just see a perpetuation of the same thing happening over and over again. There have been some gains, but not enough that have addressed the underlying issues that led to the murder of George Floyd as well as other Black men, women and children around the country.”
Why there’s debate
Despite the unity that coalesced through thousands of protests for racial justice in the last few years, critics question whether real gains were achieved for the country.
According to data from management consulting giant McKinsey, U.S. companies pledged about $340 billion to "fight racial injustice" from May 2020 to October 2022, but at least 80% of that funding is “difficult to track.” Other estimates found that 271 U.S. corporations pledged $67 billion towards racial equity, but only $652 million of those funds had actually been disbursed by the start of 2022, according to Creative Investment Research (CIR), an economic research firm that has tracked diversity investing for decades.
“After the initial excitement around the corporate pledges, they basically have petered out,” CIR chief executive William Michael Cunningham told Financial Times. “They haven’t really done anything that would lead one to believe that they are committed, with some exceptions.”
There has been some reform in police departments. Minneapolis police banned the controversial “no-knock” warrants and limited pretextual stops. Elsewhere in the country, crisis response teams were launched in San Francisco, the New York City Police Department ended qualified immunity and more than two dozen states addressed their use-of-force policies.
But many feel that progress overall has been minimal, as evidenced by officers leaving the field in record numbers, in addition to the wave of diversity roles disappearing across corporate America. A report from Revelio Labs, a company that uses data to analyze workforce dynamics and trends, found that the attrition rate for diversity, equity and inclusion roles was 33% at the end of 2022, compared to 21% for non-DEI roles.
“I always say that it is so easy to make public statements and commitments because no one will eventually check if you’re committed to the things that you committed to,” Reyhan Ayas, a senior economist at Revelio Labs, told NBC News. “As we are observing a turning of that tide, I think it’s very timely that we actually look into companies to see if they have kept up with those big statements they made.”
Still, some activists urge against ignoring the progress made since 2020 – even if those gains seem small.
"It did spark different thought within individuals, and even though the thought isn't coming to fruition in the immediate, I really do believe it inspired a young generation of leaders that are building the foundations of creating mass change in the future,” Brooklyn Councilman Chi Ossé told CBS New York.
Community members and organizations have organized a three-day festival called “Rise & Remember” for the Minneapolis region over the next three days that will feature panels, workshops and speakers to honor the life and legacy of Floyd.
Event organizer Janelle Austin says the festival aims to maintain the momentum towards a push for justice.
“Year 3 is typically the time where you’ve got politicians and corporations who want people to forget so that we can go back to business as usual, and we’re essentially taking a stance and saying we’re not going to allow that to happen,” Austin told the Star Tribune. “It is literally in our mission and vision and purpose as an organization to ensure that people do not forget. And so we’re coming in strong.”
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and his sister-in-law, Keeta Floyd, established the Philonise and Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change, to advocate for police accountability and racial justice.
“It’s not about color always,” Floyd’s sister-in-law, Keeta Floyd, said to the Real Network News. “It’s about a human life. The humanity of it all.”
For Armstrong, this year’s anniversary is about pressing on.
“We are still in a healing phase as a community,” she said. “I think we are trying to figure out the best way forward in light of a devastating event.”
Earlier this month, Floyd’s life and legacy was celebrated in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “His Name Is George Floyd,” co-authored by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa.
People are more open to talking about race relations
“The conversation is different. People are more open, especially white America, about talking about race relations. People always ask, 'Do you think it's getting better?” – George Floyd's aunt, Angela Harrelson, to AFP
‘We will never forget Floyd’
“It's important to commend the beautiful people who will not rest because of a promise they made three years ago to ensure it will never happen again. There are organizers and community members. There are unnamed folks who’ve quietly worked in the background. There are allies and supporters. There are visitors from around the world who will see the Guthrie Theater and Mall of America but only after they witness this city's wound.
They are the reasons, three years later, we will never forget Floyd as the interrogation of injustice and its benefactors continues. The forces that might attempt to erase the George Floyd Square or minimize Floyd's memory or urge everyone to just move on will not win because of their determination.” — Myron Medcalf, Star Tribune
Civil rights leaders urge passage of namesake act
“History has proven that more police does not equate to safer streets. If police officers are to truly 'protect and serve' all communities, fundamental change is crucial. That's why the NAACP continues to urge Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in service of the countless Black people and communities who continue to be terrorized by law enforcement. Innocent lives are at risk and imminent action is a must.” — Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, to the National Urban League News.
Black people have been working to drive change
“A lot of people will say we haven't made progress in the past few years, but that would be a disservice to the millions of Black people who've been working to drive change. Black and Brown people have always done for themselves what systems won’t. We consistently rely on ourselves and our communities to launch and sustain our businesses, our dreams, and our careers. Everyone else is always just catching up.” – Alex Steinman, Black business owner, to Inc.com
Organizations want progress
“I’m optimistic because I consult with clients every day. I know first-hand that there are organizations that truly want to see progress made. But collectively we’ve got to make sure that we’re encouraging those organizations to encourage their peers to work with them to advance this work.” – Chris Metzler, SVP corporate DEI and environmental, social and governance strategies at the National Urban League, to NBC News
The problem is getting worse
“Killings by police have not only continued, but they’ve also increased. According to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit research group that tracks killings by officers, police killed 1,176 people in 2022 – the highest number recorded since the initiative began a decade ago. The problem is actively getting worse, yet leaders at every level of government are failing to rein in the absolute worst abuses by police despite clear evidence that they must do so.” – Jamil Ragland, CT News Junkie
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Credit: Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images, Mario Tama/Getty Images, Maddie Meyer/Getty Images