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 it there for more than nine minutes. None of the three other officers standing near Chauvin intervened. Soon, Floyd was dead.
Initially, the police gave a misleading account of Floyd’s death, and the case might have received relatively little attention but for the video that Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old, took with her phone. That video led to international outrage and, by some measures, the largest protest marches in U.S. history.
Today, one year after Floyd’s murder, we are going to look at the impact of the movement that his death inspired in four different areas.
1. New rules for police
More than 30 states and dozens of large cities have created new rules limiting police tactics. Two common changes: banning neck restraints, like the kind Chauvin used; and requiring police officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses extreme force.
Christy Lopez of the Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown University calls the changes important but preliminary: “They’re really necessary first steps, but they’re also baby steps,” she said.
2. A focus on racism
The Black Lives Matter movement — which was re-energized by the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others — has called for changes to much more than policing. The movement has demanded that the country confront its structural racism.
In response, many companies and institutions have promised to act. The National Football League apologized for past behavior. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its events. McDonald’s, Amazon and other companies pledged to hire more diverse workforces.Continue reading the main story
“Non-Black employees joined with their Black colleagues to demand the hiring of more Black people,” The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr. wrote. “So companies and institutions stopped whining about supposedly bad pipelines and started looking beyond them.”
It’s still unclear how much has changed and how much of the corporate response was public relations.
3. Changes in public opinion
Initially, public sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement soared. But as with most high-profile political subjects in the 21st-century U.S., opinion soon polarized along partisan lines.
Today, Republican voters are less sympathetic to Black Lives Matter than they were a year ago, the 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 afterward.
There are a few broad areas of agreement. Most Americans say they have a high degree of trust in law enforcement — even more than did last June, FiveThirtyEight’s Alex Samuels notes. Most also disagree with calls to “defund” or abolish police departments. Yet most back changes to policing, such as banning chokeholds.
4. A crime surge, much debated
It’s clear that violent crime has risen over the past year. It’s not fully clear why.
Many liberals argue that the increase has little to do with the protest movement’s call for less aggressive policing. The best evidence on this side of the debate is that violent crime was already rising — including in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia — before the protests. This pattern suggests that other factors, like the pandemic and a surge of gun purchases, have played important roles.
Many conservatives believe that the crime spike is connected to the criticism of the police, and they point to different evidence. First, the crime increase accelerated last summer, after the protests began — and other high-income countries have not experienced similar increases. Second, this acceleration fits into a larger historical pattern: Crime also rose in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., after 2015 protests about police violence there, as Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist and crime scholar, notes.
“When there have been large-scale protests against police, it is pretty clear that some police have stopped doing their jobs, and that’s destabilizing,” Sharkey has told us. But that doesn’t mean that the pre-protest status quo was the right approach, he emphasizes. Brute-force policing “can reduce violence,” he said, in a Q. and A. with The Atlantic. “But it comes with these costs that don’t in the long run create safe, strong, or stable communities.”
Some reform advocates worry that rising crime will rebuild support for harsh police tactics and prison sentences. “Fear makes people revert to old ways of doing things,” Lopez said.
The big question
How can police officers both prevent crime and behave less violently, so that they kill fewer Americans while doing their jobs?
Some experts say that officers should focus on hot spots where most crimes occur. Others suggest training officers to de-escalate situations more often. Still others recommend taking away some responsibilities from the police — like traffic stops and mental-health interventions — to reduce the opportunities for violence.
So far, the changes do not seem to have affected the number of police killings. Through last weekend, police officers continued to kill about three Americans per 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 Floyd’s family at the White House today. Follow updates here about the anniversary.