Nine minutes and 29 seconds shocked the world three years ago. A video taken with a cell phone by a passer-by in Minneapolis became a document of horror. It shows white police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes as he begs to let him breathe and calls for his mother for help. Chauvin’s colleagues Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane watched idly.
According to the autopsy, Floyd then lost consciousness – and died. There were demonstrations against racism and police violence far beyond the United States. In many US cities, there was a state of emergency in the days and weeks after May 25, 2020. Anger at decades of harassment by white police officers, frustration at the often denounced structural racism in uniform erupted in violent riots, burning barricades, and devastated inner cities .
Chauvin and colleagues convicted
Joe Biden, who a year later stood to succeed then-President Donald Trump, promised justice, fundamental police reforms and even an end to racism if he were in the White House.
Two more years later, a lot has happened. Chauvin was sentenced to a combined total of over 40 years in prison on two separate trials for murder and violating Floyd’s constitutional rights. He’s already serving that sentence. His colleagues were also found guilty of violating Floyd’s constitutional civil rights and are serving several years in prison. Further proceedings are still pending.
That was at least a piece of justice, the verdict would probably not have been so clear, many experts agree, if this video had not been there as evidence. To this day, white police officers often get away with their inhuman acts because they are believed and not the black victims or their relatives.
bureaucratic power struggles
The journalist Robert Samuels was awarded the Pulitzer Prize a few days ago for his book “His name is George Floyd”. In an interview, he explains that even as President, Joe Biden has repeatedly promised to implement major police reforms. But nothing happened.
The violent death of George Floyd triggered a worldwide outcry: This protester in Ireland explains that silence is also violence
“Things are never that easy in Washington,” Samuels told DW. “Although there is a lot of solidarity in this country to end structural racism and prevent something like this from ever happening again, the reform has become bogged down in bureaucratic power struggles.”
Not even the countless people who took to the streets would have changed that. “They believed that after such a horrific murder, there might have come a chance for the world to change.” Now they are confronted with the sad reality in America: “As soon as strategic racism comes up, people feel accused, exposed, and don’t really want to talk about it.”
The color of your skin still determines whether you have to reckon with being arrested by the police, if not shot, says Robert Samuels. And what’s more: “We see that history is repeating itself.” Discussions about voting rights that were thought to have been overcome would resurface: “There are laws and draft laws that make it difficult for black people to vote in this country. It’s really not clear how things will go from now on.”
Senator: “More vigilant”
Should George Floyd’s fight for justice have been in vain in the end? One for whom the fight against structural racism and discrimination is high on the agenda is Zaynab Mohamed. At the beginning of 2023, the then 25-year-old made it into the Senate of the state of Minnesota – as the first MP with Somali roots. As a senator, she oversees an area covering parts of the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
For them, a lot has changed for the better since the death of George Floyd: “Black Americans in our state, but also in the rest of the country, have become much more vigilant,” Mohamed told DW. “We were also able to change some laws for the better, for example we managed to prevent neo-Nazi groups from infiltrating our police authorities.”
She also considers the case law in the George Floyd case to be appropriate: “It’s good that Derek Chauvin was convicted and is behind bars,” says the senator.
The protests against racially motivated police violence continue – here during court hearings in St. Paul
But real justice is far from being achieved for her: It will only exist “when we bring about systemic change in all departments and in politics as a whole. Only when we are able to understand why these people do this commit crimes and if we can hold them accountable. That’s the real change we need.”