One Year Later: How the Death of George Floyd Changed Us | CU Boulder today

Banner Image: A mural at a George Floyd memorial site. Photo by munshots on Unsplash.

On May 25, 2020, then constable Derek Chauvin murdered Minneapolis resident George Floyd in public view. Floyd’s death has been filmed and shared around the world. In the days, weeks and months that followed, protests erupted around the world in response to this deadly act of violence committed by a white police officer against a black man.

A year later, CU Boulder researchers shared their expertise with CU Boulder today, examining four areas in which the United States has – and hasn’t – changed since that day, and the potential lasting impacts on social and political movements, education, police and justice across the country.

CU Boulder student athletes, administrators and community members marched from the hill to Pearl Street Mall in what has been called the Buff Walk on June 5, 2020 (Bo Savage)

Spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 by Black activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. It has grown steadily since.

But following Floyd’s death, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” took on a significance it had never had before. His words were on people’s minds and on their lips, signs were popping up in neighborhoods across the country and people marched for protests that had never been done before.

Reiland Rabaka, professor of ethnic studies and director of the new Center for African-American and African-American Studies, noticed a significant change in the way his community reacted to Floyd’s death, compared to other news Black Americans killed in equally violent circumstances in recent years. .

“Something went very differently with the George Floyd video footage, we have to be honest about it. It has rocked people even in spaces like Boulder, Colorado, ”said Rabaka, who is African American. “They don’t realize how we are treated, that this stuff happens to us again.”

Reiland teaches a course on the Black Lives Matter movement, and while the course has always been popular, it has generated renewed interest from students and the local community to enroll in the spring of 2021. Although the It is unclear whether the movement will continue to receive the same level of support and attention as last year, Rabaka is committed to educating students and the public about it.

Increased interest in anti-racist education

Last year, the vocabulary of the United States expanded to include “anti-racism”. It provides a word to describe the attitude and actions of those who are actively engaged in dismantling systemic and institutional racism––racism rooted in laws within society or an organization–– as well as racism in their daily life.

To help more people understand this term and learn to be anti-racist, Jennifer Ho, professor of ethnic studies and director of the Center for Humanities and the Arts, and Shawn O’Neal, doctoral student in ethnic studies, created a course in line. on the Coursera educational platform. The lesson, Anti-racism I, is free for the public.

“Education will always be one of the things we need to tackle systemic inequalities, especially when it comes to race and racism,” said Ho, who is of Asian descent.

Ho saw an increase in demand for this type of educational content, not only in the wake of Floyd’s death, but also in the wake of increased discrimination and violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she has spoken of often. last year.

“There has been an interest from the average person who wants to be able to do something different, who wants to be able to make a positive change,” Ho said.

Reinventing police services

The public is now paying more attention to the overlapping issues of race, police and the U.S. criminal justice system, according to Ben levin, associate professor of law.

“While these issues of racial and police violence are hardly unprecedented,” Levin said, “what is so important about a time like this is that it invites people who would otherwise not stand up for it. not focus on these issues, to pay more attention.

Colorado has seen more legislation than in the past, in part because the problem is more attentive. For example, Senate Bill 217 is designed to “strengthen the integrity of law enforcement” through increased transparency and accountability. Signed into law on June 19, 2020, it allows those aggrieved by police officers to bring civil suits in Colorado state courts in a way they may not be able to do in court. federal, Levin said.

“There remains a bigger question, however, as to the impact this will have on the police force,” Levin said. “We don’t know whether departments will respond to these lawsuits by changing the way they do business or whether officers will be deterred from using force because of a greater likelihood of civil liability.”

But since June 2020, the Denver Police Department has been working with a group of local organizations to manage the Support Team Response (STAR) program, where some 911 calls are redirected to medical professionals in the area. police place. According to a progress report, in its first six months, the program responded to 748 incidents, none of which required police or resulted in arrests or prison terms.

Mainly as a result of Floyd’s murder, both police presence and reputation across the country were affected in 2020, according to David Pyrooz, associate professor of sociology and associate professor at the Institute for Behavioral Sciences.

In the second half of 2020, pedestrian stops and traffic in Denver plummeted by 50%, based on city and county data. This is about 1,000 fewer arrests carried out each week by the police.

“It’s a remarkable change,” Pyrooz said. “But it was the image of the police that was most affected. A Gallup poll showed that for the first time in three decades, less than the majority of the general public maintained their confidence in the police. ”

Yet at the same time, homicides are on the rise across the country, and Denver is not exempt from this increase. The rise in violent crime could pose challenges for those investing in reforming or reinventing the police and changing the way the system works.

“Continued calls for more policing mean that there is an important counterbalance to any effort to move to decarceration, or to reduce reliance on the police and other criminal justice institutions,” said Wine.

Mobile phone used in public to record a protest

Video footage has been used in courtrooms as evidence for over 30 years, but with cellphones now constantly at hand, courtrooms are seeing an overwhelming amount of video footage in cases involving police violence. . (Credit: Unsplash / Alice Donovan Rouse)

The role of video evidence in court

The use of video footage in a trial, as was the case in Chauvin’s trial, is nothing new in the legal system, according to Sandra Ristovska, assistant professor of media studies. In fact, 30 years ago the video images taken by a spectator were used in the courtroom during the historic trial of four Los Angeles police officers who brutally assaulted a black man named Rodney King. This incident also sparked a storm of nationwide protests.

Today, with the advent of smartphones and police cameras, courtrooms are seeing an overwhelming amount of video footage in cases involving police violence. In the case of Floyd’s death, a viewer captured uninterrupted video over nine minutes long. In addition to several other videos of spectators, other video evidence included at least five different cameras from the police body, security footage inside the store, and video from a city surveillance camera.

While in Derek Chauvin’s trial the wide variety of video evidence was consistent and corroborated by witness and expert testimony, a surplus of video footage doesn’t always bring us any closer to justice. The video is only a fragment of evidence, Ristovska points out. It is important to also consider what type of narrative we are building around what we see and what other information exists to verify that narrative.

“We can all see the same thing. But we can come up with a different interpretation, ”Ristovska said. “We tend to have prejudices in the way we interpret images.”

In the same way that eyewitness testimony has been studied and led to advances in our knowledge of how memories can be affected by persuasion or trauma, video may not be as reliable as we think it is. suppose, she said. For example, lawyers on either side of a case have the power to frame video evidence, which can influence what a juror pays attention to and how they interpret what they see.

Psychologists have already proven that it is possible to influence what a person does and does not see in a video, a principle known as selective attention. This principle is popularly demonstrated through a video used in the Harvard experiment in 1999, where viewers are asked to count the number of times a basketball has passed between players wearing white T-shirts – as a person in a black gorilla costume walks the stage, often completely unnoticed.

“The video is here to stay,” Ristovska said. “And the more videos we see, the more judicial systems have to think more carefully about the presentation of this evidence, the type of instructions jurors should receive and the training that there should be for judges on the particularities of the cases. visual and video evidence. ”


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