On Tuesday, a jury in Minnesota found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all three charges in the death of George Floyd: second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. As the verdict was read, communities across the country came together — as they have for the past year — to demonstrate against police violence and for racial justice.
The fact that Chauvin will probably be going to jail may provide some solace to Floyd’s family. But true justice remains elusive.
The fact that Chauvin will probably be going to jail may provide some solace to Floyd’s family. But true justice remains elusive. Consider the dozens of states that are gearing up to pass sweeping crackdowns on our First Amendment right to protest peacefully.
Protests are vital in America. Protests put pressure on Minnesota authorities to charge Chauvin, on city and state officials to evaluate their police budgets (to mixed success) and on Congress to draft bills like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House but will need bipartisan support to pass the Senate.
This is the kind of power these lawmakers are trying to curb.
Our right to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances is embedded in our Constitution, and it forms the bedrock of who we are — and aspire to be — as a democracy. But once again, some politicians are doing what they do best: trying to take away the rights (especially) of Black and brown people to show our discontent and blame us for speaking out against the brutality we face every day.
In Minnesota, the center of last year’s demonstrations, the Legislature is considering a bill that would make anyone convicted of a crime at a protest ineligible for state loans, grants or assistance, including student loans, food stamps, rental assistance and unemployment benefits.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping law just this week that imposes new penalties for people arrested at demonstrations and offers more immunity for people who hit protesters with vehicles.
In what may be the largest movement in the country’s history, people in big cities and small towns across the country and around the world came together last summer after the killing of George Floyd to demand an end to police violence against Black and brown communities, call for greater accountability in law enforcement, advance alternative visions for public safety and seek sweeping cultural change.
These largely peaceful gatherings were routinely met by militarized police armed with tanks, chemical irritants and rubber bullets. But instead of cracking down on this brutality, lawmakers are turning against a movement that is leading to an overdue national reckoning about race in America.
We are Black men and veteran community organizers who have seen firsthand how police act with violent impunity when Black and brown people and immigrants and those who support them gather to voice their anger.
One of us remembers his first demonstration — in downtown Chicago, when he was 16 years old — to protest in behalf of his best friend who was a survivor of police violence. The police rounded up and arrested dozens of peaceful protesters for the mere act of gathering.
The other was an organizer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, helping to organize the community demonstrations that kicked off immediately after the police shooting of Michael Brown. Those protests, which continued through the summer and the fall, were almost universally peaceful, but heavily armed police officers outfitted in military-style gear met protesters daily. The police regularly used sound cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas on residents who were hit in the face with rubber bullets and sprayed with chemical agents that burned their lungs.
In 2014, protesters called on prosecutors to charge former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson with murder. Instead, Wilson walked free.
Seven years later, we are still demanding that police be held accountable when they kill us.
And as often happens in this country, glimmers of progress have been met with violent and determined opposition by those who benefit from the white supremacist systems embedded in its governance.
Since the 2020 election, state after state has considered laws that would suppress voting rights — 361 and counting — especially in Black and brown communities. Now, we are seeing the blatant attack on our right to assemble and freedom of speech. According to USA Today, 35 states are considering more than 90 bills aimed at keeping people from protesting. One only has to look at the difference between the George Floyd protests and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to see how protesters of different backgrounds are treated.
These attacks prove that the people who want to uphold racist systems are running scared. They know they are on the losing side of history, so they want to silence our uncomfortable truths. But with every step we march, every chant we sing and every sign we hold up, we will only get louder.