Protests for racial justice after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis continue across the US and abroad. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. Black Americans and allies told us why they’re speaking out and standing out, and what’s needed to move forward.Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Protests have erupted all across the US and abroad after the death of George Floyd, a black man who a police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. A video of the incident prompted widespread outrage that poured onto the streets and online. Floyd’s death comes not long after Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor was killed in Kentucky. For some, Floyd’s death was the final straw.”So I decided to go out because this was an issue and this is something that is very personal to me as a Black woman,” Aiysha Whitfield, who attended protests in Chicago told Insider. “Seeing that video made me really angry, and really upset and really frustrated, because of all the years of just this happening, and I just felt like I needed to do something, I need to do my part.”For some, they’re hopeful that this movement could spur lasting change and progress to an issue that has existed for centuries.
One Black woman, who asked to not be named for safety reasons, told Insider that the root of the injustices afflicting Black people is tied to white supremacy.
She used an analogy of a tree that bears bad fruit: While slavery, or “the tree,” may have ended, Black people have since been subjected to a mass incarceration system, redlining for housing, inadequate education, a negative portrayal in media, among other injustices. Those inequalities are the bad fruit. “And so what we’re seeing now, police brutality, killings of Black folks, it’s not much different than what happened years ago when our people were enslaved, and they spoke out against something, they were lynched, they were shot or you know, whatever the case is, they were whipped to stay in order, stay in line with this system that people created,” she said. “And I think when people look at it as that, as exactly what it is, then they’ll understand the broader picture of what the issue is.”Floyd’s death was caught on video and recirculatedWhile many acknowledged that the anger being shown on the street and across social media is the result of generations of oppression, they say that the capturing of Floyd’s death on video was a catalyst for people who normally might not have been aware, or willing to acknowledge the abuse to finally see it.
“Nobody believes Black people when we say that things are going on, like, for every George Floyd, there’s like 100 more. And so we only got that one video,” the protester, who preferred to not be named, said. But for some, the way the video went viral and was repeatedly played was concerning.Victoria, a Black American currently living in Europe told Insider that she didn’t watch the video.
Courtesy of Philonise Floyd
“Frankly, I’m sick of Black bodies circulated around the internet, specifically the way that they die. I think that’s a bit grotesque but by the same token, I understand that white people wouldn’t believe us unless they saw the proof. It’s a double edge sword,” Victoria, who asked to omit her last name, told Insider.
She explained that she was still mourning the death of Ahmaud Arbery when she heard about Floyd’s death. “You can’t say, oh another one, because that defeats the purpose of what Black people are fighting for. But very literally it’s yet another one,” she said. She said the incident prompted her to start being more vocal. Ama Appiah said she initially didn’t have a reaction when she saw the video, but couldn’t get through the entirety of it.
“As someone who has two younger brothers who are in their 20s, it definitely hit home for me. My initial reaction was pretty much I had no reaction, which is crazy to think,” Appiah said. Appiah explained that while she was shocked and saddened by her response to the video, it stemmed from not being surprised by what she saw. She explained that she’s almost become desensitized to the violence that Black people have faced in America, and she only realized she was not okay after a friend reached out to ask how she was doing. The impact of looting and riotingWhile the majority of protests that erupted after Floyd’s death have been peaceful, some believe their message was co-opted by looting and rioting. Others, while they don’t condone it, see the violence as instrumental to being heard. Whitfield said that while attending protests in Chicago, demonstrators were kneeling and chanting peacefully. The only violent incident she recalled happened when a police car drove through protesters. Whitfield said she was recording when the incident happened and posted it on social media to show what was really going on.
“I was generally shocked to see that it actually happened in front of me. And this is the reality of what’s been happening ever since the beginning but worse, you know,” Whitfield said.
Police charge forward during a protest outside the White House over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in Washington, DC, on May 31, 2020.
SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images
Victoria explained that while looting and rioting may seem counterproductive to some, it’s not the first time they have happened in the history of political movements, saying she believes the unrest has helped amplify voices. “It doesn’t take a historian to go back a couple of decades to see that the only reason why I think it was the 1968 civil rights act was passed was because of a riot,” she said.While she hasn’t participated in it, she said she’s not going to tell other Black people how to protest.
She added that while some criticized the behavior as destroying Black neighborhoods, she said the majority of businesses being looted were large corporations like Target or Walmart, which she said are “all capitalist organizations,” that “in one way or another, they all support a white supremacist system.”Appiah also pointed out, that she’s heard of many instances, where Black protesters stopped others from looting or destroying businesses. White people and non-Black POC need to educate themselves and support Black peopleWhile many see this as an opportunity for lasting change, they say it needs the support of non-Black people.Whitfield said she was thrilled to see a diverse crowd of protesters in Chicago.
In New York, Rowena Kosher, a white woman said she attended protests to show solidarity. Kosher said that while the protests she attended were peaceful, she was aware of some that turned violent, and that was more motivation for her to attend more. “So as a white person, especially knowing that it was dangerous and there was violence,” Kosher said, “I’m also aware of my privilege as a white woman who can stand, and quite literally serve as a body in place as a buffer between the police and the people of color.”On Rowena’s point, Ibrahima Mbaye, a black man told Insider he was arrested while protesting in New York City. He described being detained for long hours in a bus, before being made to wait to have his paperwork filed, and then being booked in a crowded jail with others, some of whom said they had coronavirus.
Mbaye described a situation of intimidation, and what he described as an abuse of power. He told Insider, that cops refused to open windows on a sweaty hot bus full of detainees, they kept him in restricting handcuffs that severely hurt his shoulders for hours, while loosening zip ties that they had used to detainee white protesters, and neglected to provide detainees with proper safety equipment like masks or hand sanitizer.
protester holds a sign that says,”Do You Understand Yet?” with a picture of Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, taking a knee with a Black Power Fist on in the middle of his jersey with the Arches of the Brooklyn Bridge
Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images
He said calls for proper safety measures by detainees fell on deaf ears. “There were people who had pretty explicitly said that they were positive for coronavirus and then none of them listened to us. They could hear us, we knew they could hear us. They would laugh at us, scoff at us,” he said. In his circumstance, both detainees and officers were not wearing masks.
“We have no masks, and you police officers have no masks on, and we do not want to get infected,” Mbaye said. Mbaye said he realized pretty quickly that his treatment would be based on the personality or whims of the officer he was dealing with. He was charged with disorderly conduct and failure to comply with the police. “It seemed as though being detained and arrested was sort of the prerequisite for getting a charge. It wasn’t sort of having, like, being charged with something to be arrested. It seemed as though it was almost, post-hoc the way that they decided the charges for everybody,” he said. In Washington, DC, Maryam Bacchus attended protests with her family. She said it was important for them as hijabi Muslim women to show support and stand in solidarity with black people.
“It gives them value, it gives them a platform by being there and letting them know that they have an audience otherwise who are they speaking to,” Bacchus said. “Traction and attention is going to be brought to an issue if there are numbers.”However, she added that while that’s one way to help the Black community, it’s only one facet. Bacchus said real change comes when others take action and actively educate themselves.
People gather during a demonstration in solidarity with George Floyd and protest against police brutality and racism, on June 12, 2020 in London, United Kingdom.
Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
And many in the Black community have highlighted that it’s not the job of Black people to educate everyone around them. While Appiah said she doesn’t mind answering questions from people or beginning a tough conversation, it is emotionally burdening to continuously have to speak on injustices towards the community.She explained that people should empower the voices of Black people in their respective environments.
“I try my best to get into those rooms and into space, but it’s very hard for me,” she said. “And it’s hard for a lot of, a lot of different people. It’s emotional.” Victoria explained that the issue goes beyond education. She said most people maybe anti-racist but may struggle to exemplify that in their day to day life. She said change comes from experiencing other cultures through travel, music, books, and more. “Make yourself malleable to different cultures and being shaped by different experiences that may not have any sort of resonance to your own,” she said.