know about His name is George Floyd | Comment
George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer just over two years ago. His murder sparked a movement to end unjustified police killings and racist police practices. Unfortunately, the killings have not stopped. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was blocked by Senate Republicans last year. The fight continues in communities large and small.
During the racial justice protests that erupted after video of Floyd’s murder spread around the world, millions of people spoke his name and demanded accountability and justice. Now, a remarkable book examines Floyd’s life and death in the context of our history and what one of the authors calls the “complex and tangled web” created by racism in this country.
“His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Fight for Racial Justice” was written by Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa. It is based on reports from his colleagues and intimate interviews with Floyd’s family, romantic partners and circle of friends.
At a time when politicians are making it illegal for educators to acknowledge that systemic racism exists, Samuels and Olorunnipa document in painful detail the ways that racially discriminatory policies in housing, education, health care, addictions, policing, and more contributed to “ a life in which Floyd repeatedly found his dreams diminished, postponed and derailed, largely due to the color of his skin.
“For example,” says Samuels, “you can’t disentangle police departments’ disproportionate use of force against African-Americans from the junk science still being taught about blacks being more resistant to pain. We couldn’t ignore that those same instincts led to inadequate mental health treatment in George Floyd’s life, nor could we separate that society encouraged George Floyd to grow up to pursue his athletic dreams and then stereotyped him as dangerous when he was off the field. . .”
The book does not attempt to make a saint out of Floyd. He doesn’t have to. He was a human being. He did nothing to deserve to be killed on the street by an abusive police officer who should not have been wearing a badge.
“His Name Is George Floyd” is worth reading for many reasons. It gives us a fuller picture of the person George Floyd was. He introduces us to many people who loved him and sought a measure of justice for his murder. And it points to some important facts about surveillance in this country.
One is the need for accountability. Chauvin had a history of violent behavior. When abusive police officers are not held accountable, more people will be subjected to their violence.
Another point is that surveillance is a local problem that requires local solutions. National policies, such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, can help. But holding violent cops accountable, getting them off the streets, or better yet, preventing them from being hired in the first place all require change at the local level.
People For the American Way spent the two years since Floyd’s murder developing a roadmap to transform public safety. We look at the investigation. We spoke with criminologists, public officials, clergymen and other community activists and members of law enforcement. “All Safe: Transforming Public Safety” is a guide for public officials and community activists seeking to make their communities safer.
Among the essential steps to make policing fairer and more effective at the same time: improve recruitment to weed out potentially dangerous cops, hold violent officers accountable, and remove unfit officers from the force. Furthermore, more importantly, restructuring public security systems to reduce the unnecessary involvement of armed officers in situations where they are not needed and for which they are not trained is good for both police and communities.
The authors of “His Name Is George Floyd” describe optimism in the face of our history as both a defense mechanism and a means of survival. I am optimistic that we can put an end to unjust police killings. I am optimistic that we can build the uncomfortably large coalitions that will be needed.
“Our book argues that if we can demonstrate step by step how this country’s history with racism continues to shape people today, then we can continue the good work of dismantling systemic racism,” Samuels told me in an email. “We have to connect theory with practice.”
That job belongs to all of us. We know what kinds of changes will make our communities safer. Let’s get organized, city by city and town by town, to make it happen.
Ben Jealous is president of People For the American Way and a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania.