A little girl holds up a sign as “Black Lives Matter” New York protesters demonstrate in Times Square over the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on June 7, 2020 in New York. — On May 25, 2020, Floyd, a 46-year-old black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

“I Can’t Breathe:” The refrain that reignited a movement

By Jasmeet Sidhu, Senior Researcher, Amnesty International USA

“I can’t breathe” … three words uttered by George Floyd as his life was extinguished beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer have again become a rallying cry for racial justice and police reform in the U.S. and across the globe. In a showing of historic solidarity- the likes of which have not been seen since the days of the Civil Rights Movement- millions of diverse crowds have taken to the streets for weeks, protesting, chanting, kneeling, and demanding change. Astonishingly, if unsurprisingly, the protests calling for an end to police violence were met with more police violence. A, pinpointing over 125 incidents where law enforcement unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets, impact rounds, pepper balls, even bikes and batons against protestors who included young children and women, in some cases targeting journalists, legal observers and medics.

A young girl holds a sign on August 8, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri. As the embattled community celebrates the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. by a Ferguson police officer, there are a wide range of social events and civil disobedience actions throughout the St. Louis, Missouri area. AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL B. THOMAS (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP via Getty Images)

#BlackLivesMatter, a simple call for racial equality, yet once considered somewhat controversial, has become a freshly renewed motto for reform, now supported by two-thirds of Americans. Recent attacks on protestors and anti-protesting laws threaten the very freedoms that define our country and are protected as universal human rights: the right to freedom of expression and the right to protest. Why is expression of these rights and their protection so critical? Let us examine the evidence. Widespread protests have overtaken the streets of the United States for more than four weeks, with no end in sight, and in that short period of time- real change has occurred. Of course, much more is needed at all levels, but it is worth noting that the people of the U.S. and in countries around the world, alongside leaders in the civil rights and global human rights movement, have persisted in demanding that Black people be treated equally and that police be held accountable for their racially biased policing and use of force. Their unrelenting voices and the injustice of George Floyd’s death have brought about meaningful social change, united a movement for equal rights, and compelled activism and action in the midst of a global pandemic.

New York, New York, United States — August 23, 2014: Thousands of people protest against NYPD in Staten Island Over Eric Garner’s Death.

10 ways Black Lives Matter activists and protestors have achieved meaningful change:

1. Officers Involved in George Floyd’s Death Charged

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, leading to Floyd’s death, has been arrested with charges enhanced to second-degree murder following protests, and three other former officers involved in the incident have also been charged with lesser offenses.

2. Conversations on Defunding Police Have Begun

In a shocking move, that may have been unimaginable prior to George Floyd’s death, a majority of Minneapolis city council members, the city where George Floyd was killed, pledged to disband the city’s police department and instead implement a novel community-led safety model. In Los Angeles, the mayor proposed slashing up to $150 million of the LAPD’s budget. Mayors in other cities including Boston, MA, Lansing, MI and Seattle, WA have also said they would consider cutting police funding.

3. Monuments Memorializing Racist History Have Been Removed

In Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Birmingham, Washington D.C., Richmond, San Francisco, and dozens of other cities, monuments and statues to individuals with racist pasts have been removed, including those honoring Christopher Columbus, Frank Rizzo, Captain Jay Brooks, Robert E. Lee, Junipero Serra, Charles Linn, and Albert Pike, among others.

4. New Laws at State and Local levels Addressing Police Reform are Being Passed

  • Denver, Colorado, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Houston and Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Illinois, and Phoenix, Arizona have all banned the use of chokeholds in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
  • Seattle, Washington banned the use of chokeholds and teargas following law enforcement’s use of the gas against protestors.
  • Louisville, Kentucky banned “no-knock” search warrants in the city, by unanimous vote.
  • Washington, DC implemented a three-month ban on the use of rubber bullets or chemical irritants on peaceful protestors,
  • Iowa, New York, and Connecticut passed statewide laws or issued executive orders banning the use of chokeholds by law enforcement

5. Police Use of Force Standards are Being Modified and Reevaluated by Police Departments, and Some Departments are Taking Swift Action in Response to Violence

  • Various police departments across the U.S. reevaluated and banned chokeholds in the wake of George Floyd’s death, including Aurora, Michigan; Phoenix, Arizona; and San Francisco, California; among others.
  • Mayors and law enforcement officers from Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Tampa, Florida; Baltimore, Maryland; Phoenix, Arizona; and Columbia, South Carolina have joined to create a Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group.
  • For the first time in two decades, New Jersey, under the direction of their attorney general, will update its use of force rules for all police.
  • The NYPD has committed to disbanding its problematic plain-clothes anti-crime unit.
  • Two Buffalo, New York, police officers who without provocation shoved a 75-year-old peaceful protestor, cracking his skull, have been arraigned on felony assault charges. Law enforcement officers in several other cities who engaged in excessive force against protestors have also been charged with offenses ranging from assault to harassment.

6. Sports Leagues Acknowledge Impact of Racism

In an extraordinary reversal of course from just a few years ago, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) banned the Confederate flag from all racing events. The Association stated: The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”

The National Football League (NFL) Commissioner owned up to the league’s past mistakes, citing their failure to recognize players’ criticism of racism and peaceful protests against police brutality against African Americans. The league also pledged to give $250 million over ten years to fight racism.

7. Corporations Take Action to Address Racism

While business leaders still have a long ways to go in addressing racial inequity and bias in the industry and workplace, some have taken encouraging steps in the past few weeks.

  • Amazon imposed a moratorium on police use of the company’s facial recognition product Rekignition.
  • Johnson & Johnson addressed colorism by pledging to halt sales of its skin lightening creams, alluding to fairer skin as preferable to darker tones.
  • A unit of PepsiCo Inc with purview over the Aunt Jemima Syrup brand, will retire the name and image of Aunt Jemima, branding clearly rooted in offensive racial stereotypes. The company also plans to spend $400 million to support Black communities over the next five years.
  • Famed coffee conglomerate Starbucks Corp loosened its staff policy, allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts and pins to demonstrate their support stance against racism.

8. Juneteenth is Considered for Observance as a National Holiday

Federal legislators introduced legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday. Only four states across the U.S. did not recognize the date as a state holiday or observance: Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Employers across the U.S. including companies like Twitter, Nike, Mastercard and Vox Media made Juneteenth a paid holiday for their employees. The 19th of June is observed as the earliest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States in 1865.

9. Federal Lawmakers Introduce New Laws to Address Police Reform and Racism

Bills addressing qualified immunity for law enforcement, use of body cams, racial profiling, use of force standards, policing transparency through data, enhanced police training, and other reforms have been introduced. On June 25th, the House is expected to pass the Justice in Policing Act with a number of positive provisions. However, the Senate’s current proposal, the Justice Act, falls woefully short on human rights. Click to send a message to your two Senators about what they should pass.

10. President Trump Signs Executive Order Re: Banning Chokeholds

After weeks of protests and pressure from impacted communities, President Trump signed an executive order incentivizing police departments to ban chokeholds with federal grants, and requesting law enforcement to create a national registry tracking law enforcement who have a record of excessive force.

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