Why one man’s death means so much

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Nina Moothedath, Podcasting EIC

Understanding why one man’s death sparked such a massive response in america comes down to one fact. It wasn’t just one man’s death, but the latest in many deaths and injustices spanning decades of american history. 

After the civil war ended, lynchings took place and the KKK was formed. According to the NAACP, 3,446 African american were lynched between 1882 and 1968, and many were never recorded.

The nation was shocked when Emmet Till, a 14 year old boy, was lynched in 1955, and his mother insisted on having an open casket funeral so people could see the brutality and violence her son had faced.

Jim crow laws would also continue into the early 20th century and enforce racial segregation. Although the 1986 case Plessy v. Fergeson had declared segregation as “separate but equal”, it often wasn’t.

Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted the “doll tests” in the 1940’s, which found that children attributed positive characteristics to white dolls and negative characteristics to black ones, even if they themselves were black. 

Segregation didn’t just mean people had to use different restrooms. It included practices like redlining, that kept black people in certain neighborhoods and consequently barred them from economic growth.

According to a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, those areas are more likely to still be populated by minorities and face poverty to this day. 

The fight against segregation took many forms. There were boycotts like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted over a year. There were “sit-ins”, like those in Greensboro, and there were freedom rides and marches such as the 1963 march on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his famous speech. 

The civil rights act would pass in 1964, and while it stopped segregation, it didn’t stop racism and discrimination. In 1965, thirty million dollars worth of property were destroyed and thirty four people were killed in the Watts riot after an argument broke out during an arrest.

The “Long hot summer of 1967” was marked by race riots throughout the country.

Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. What followed were riots and looting in over a hundred cities across the US where, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, 43 people were killed, around 3,500 were injured, and 27,000 were arrested. It would be known as the Holy Week Uprising, and on April 11th, the Civil Right Act of 1968 was passed.

In 1991, Rodney King was beaten by police officers after being arrested on the I-210. Civilian George Holliday recorded the incident without the officers knowing and sent it to a local news station.

It was one of the first times video of police brutality went viral, sparking the 1992 Los Angeles Riots after the cops involved were aquitted. 63 people died, and more than 12,000 were arrested. 

The Black Lives Matter movement as we know it today began in 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in 2012.

It was founded by activist women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. In 2014, after Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, Darnell Moore and Patrisse Cullors organized the Black Lives Matter Ride, where over 600 people gathered. 

Also in 2014, Eric Garner was killed after being held in a chokehold during his arrest, saying “I can’t breathe” eleven times. Thousands gathered in protests around the country.  In the same year, Tamir Rice, who was 12, was shot while playing in the park with a toy gun.

According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, police killed more than 100 unarmed black people in 2015, and in only 4 cases officers were convicted and sentenced, with none serving more than 4 years. 

Since then, the movement has become more decentralized, with many taking up the cause and its slogans such as “Hands up, don’t shoot”, “I can’t breathe”, and “No justice, no peace.”

The movement has also stressed it’s acceptance of female and LGBT+ african americans as they fight against the injustices they face.  The “Say Her Name” movement protested the police shootings of african american women and girls.

The nation was still facing the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot while jogging unarmed this February, and Breonna Taylor, who was shot inside her own apartment this March, when George Floyd died on May 25th.

An officer kneeled on his neck for over 8 minutes, and according to his autopsy, he died of the asphyxiation. All four officers involved are facing charges. 

George Floyd’s recent death did spark national protests, even reaching our community, but the violence and racism directed towards the African American community that makes change necessary has been going on for decades.