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How Black Lives Matter has Transformed America

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Kate Byng-Hall investigates how the magnitude of the BLM movement has impacted American society.

Photo by Clay Banks

On the 25th of May this year, black man George Floyd was killed in Minnesota, USA, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. 

The tragedy prompted millions to burst into protest around the world, and has since brought about many reforms aiming to eliminate police brutality and racial discrimination in the USA, where systematic racism has been a problem for centuries.

Transforming the Police 

Many of the basic principles and practices behind American policing were brought under scrutiny as a result of Floyd’s death, leading to multiple legislative changes.

Two weeks after the incident, in the city where Floyd was killed, the Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle the city’s police department and remodel it in order to eliminate systemic racism and refocus on public safety through new community initiatives.  This is a ground-breaking step in police reform, responding in part to calls from protestors to abolish the police altogether. 

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Elsewhere, some departments have responded to calls to defund traditional policing.  Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, has pledged to shift funding from the NYPD to youth and social services, while Los Angeles’ Mayor, Eric Garcetti, has announced that he will “seek to identify $100 million to $150 million in cuts from the LAPD,” instead funding deficient areas such as jobs, health care and education.

The use of chokeholds, the restraint method which killed Floyd, has been banned by police departments in states including California, Nevada and Texas.  This may be made a national requirement if the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is passed by Congress.  The Bill would prohibit police use of chokeholds and ‘no-knock warrants’, and would make dashboard and body cameras obligatory while police are on duty.

“Third Ward, Cuney Homes, that's where [George Floyd] was born at. But everybody is going to remember him around the world. He is going to change the world.” – Floyd’s younger brother Rodney eulogising at his funeral

Corporate Action 

The corporate world has also been responding to the Movement.  Worldwide skincare brand Johnson & Johnson will stop selling products designed to reduce dark spots after they have been widely-used in Asia and the Middle East as skin-whitening aids.

The Grammy’s have announced that they will no longer use the word ‘urban’ to describe music of black origin.  Their award category for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” will be renamed the “Best Progressive R&B album” in order to prevent black music being associated with stereotypical ‘ghetto culture’.  

Individual business people have also been making changes, with Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, the white husband of Serena Williams, stepping down from the company's board of directors and asking the company to replace him with a black candidate, saying “it is long overdue to do the right thing”.  Conversely, the CEO and founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, has been forced to resign after questioning the existence of systemic racism.

Apple, Amazon and Google have updated their voice response software to offer education on the Movement.  Now, if you ask a Google device, “Do black lives matter?”, it responds, “Black lives matter.  Black people deserve the same freedoms afforded to everyone in this country, and recognizing the injustice they face is the step towards fixing it.”

Raising Voices

Millions of dollars have been raised in support of anti-racist causes, including $90 million for Bail Funds which paid off protestors’ bail charges when they were arrested during peaceful protests across the States.  It is the powerful force of social media which facilitated such monumental financial aid for the Movement, as ordinary people and celebrities alike continuously shared posts about the issue for weeks after the tragedy.

Companies have also been making large donations.  Apple pledged to spend $100 million on a new Racial Equity and Justice Initiative to support black communities.  Walmart is donating the same amount across five years to establish a new Centre for Race Equity to try and dismantle systemic white privilege in education and employment.

Similarly to the UK, where a statue of slave-trader Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol, the removal of racist emblems from the public eye is changing the face of the country.  Statues of slave-traders and colonisers have been taken down in states such as Alabama, Florida and Philadelphia, and the statue of the Nation’s ‘founder’, Christopher Columbus, has even been “temporarily removed... until further notice” in Chicago after the Mayor Lori Lightfoot faced pressure to take down the image of the coloniser.

While much positive change has been made in the wake of this horrific killing, there is so much still to be done. Racist attitudes are undoubtably still prevalent among much of the American population, especially in the seemingly impenetrable Bible Belt where some still almost worship the Confederate flag.  It’s not helped by the fact that President Trump appears to be a racist at heart himself in the violent way he has responded to the protests.  

We cannot settle with the small reforms which have been made so far.  Change cannot stop until all people in every corner of society accept that black lives really do matter.


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