Politics

What the George Floyd Protests Have Already Changed

The movement has made staggering gains in just two weeks.

Demonstrators march and hold signs saying various slogans.
Kerem Yucel/Getty Images

After two weeks of largely peaceful protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, it is becoming clearer that the Black Lives Matter movement is upending the way many white Americans view policing in this country.

On Monday, CNN released a poll showing that 84 percent of respondents—including 88 percent of white respondents—viewed the peaceful protests as justified.* In contrast, 67 percent of respondents overall and 67 percent of white respondents answered the question similarly during a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest. Also on Monday, conservative-leaning polling outlet Rasmussen released numbers showing that “belief that blacks are treated unfairly by police and that police discrimination is a bigger issue than inner city crime have jumped to new highs.” As Politico’s Tim Alberta noted on Sunday, there has been an enormous jump in the number of poll respondents—and particularly white poll respondents—who believe that black people are more likely to be victims of excessive police force in this country, from 33 percent overall and 26 percent among white respondents in 2014 to 57 percent overall and 49 percent among white Americans in a survey taken last week.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

“In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply,” wrote conservative pollster Frank Luntz in response to the numbers. “We are a different country today than just 30 days ago.”

The outrage in the streets is not just leading to shifting public opinions. It’s also producing tangible results. While the goals of protesters calling for widespread defunding of police departments across the country have obviously not been entirely met, it’s worth discussing some of what the protests have already achieved. Here is a brief list of some of the reforms that have resulted directly or in part from the protests.

Disband and Defund

One of the principal battle cries of the protesters demands that cities “defund the police” or replace their current police forces with more community-oriented services like social workers, educators, and violence intervention programs. After Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey faced a stinging chorus of boos for declining to embrace the abolition movement in his city, the Minneapolis City Council announced Sunday that it had a veto-proof majority in support of dismantling the police department as it currently exists. Commissioner members made clear on Monday that the process of disbanding and replacing the department still needs to be hashed out between the commission and the community in the months ahead. The promise itself, though, is a tremendous win for the protesters in the city where the latest iteration of the movement began after former MPD officer Derek Chauvin was recorded kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes until he died.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The calls for cuts to police budgets have spread to the two largest cities in the country. Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to cut upward of $150 million from the proposed LAPD budget after a violent police crackdown on weekend protests and outrage over remarks by police Chief Michael Moore comparing people in the streets to Floyd’s killer.* As recently as Friday, meanwhile, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested he was not in favor of budget cuts to the NYPD. On Sunday, though he announced—without offering specifics—that he would support some cuts to the NYPD’s $6 billion budget.

Taking Police Out of Schools

Within days of Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Public Schools board voted unanimously to end a $1 million contract for school security with the MPD. Like the broader push to cut police department budgets generally, the move to end school contracts with police departments has also gone nationwide. Last week’s, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education director announced that his board had the votes to remove Denver police officers from security positions in city schools. Similarly, the Portland Public Schools superintendent announced last week that his city’s schools would be “discontinuing the regular presence of school resource officers.”

Disempowering Police Unions

The protests have also zeroed in on the political power of police unions as one reason police are so rarely held accountable for misconduct. Public officials are now being pressured to renounce campaign contributions from organizations representing police officers, particularly district attorneys who might have the responsibility of prosecuting officers in excessive force cases. In New York, more than a dozen public officials promised to donate contributions from law enforcement–affiliated political groups. In California, Bay Area district attorneys called on the state bar to ban political contributions from law enforcement organizations, and a number of elected officials promised to donate any past contributions from law enforcement. (Notably, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who has received $2.2 million in contributions from law enforcement, said that she opposed any state bar prohibition on such contribution.)

Prosecuting Police

After police crackdowns on protesters across the country, multiple district attorneys have actually sought to prosecute police officers caught on tape using excessive force on protesters, while also opting not to press charges against those protesters for alleged curfew and unlawful assembly violations. In Los Angeles, Lacey said on Monday she would not prosecute these cases. In New York, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said on Friday that he would not prosecute those low-level arrests. On the flip side, district attorneys in multiple jurisdictions have pledged to prosecute police officers caught on tape abusing protesters. In Buffalo, New York, two officers were charged with second-degree assault after pushing over a 75-year-old man and leaving him to bleed from his ear in the street. In Philadelphia, one officer was charged with aggravated assault after beating a protester with a baton during a protest last week. In Fairfax County, Virginia, an officer was charged with three counts of assault and battery after using a stun gun on a peaceful black protester, who was saying “I can’t breathe” in an echo of Floyd’s last words. In Atlanta, six officers were charged with aggravated assault, simple battery, and damage of property after breaking into a car and stunning two black college students in the middle of a protest. There are hundreds of more similar cases that need to be investigated from last week, but at least some district attorneys have begun to take action.

Criminal Charges for Floyd’s Killers

The police officers who took part in the killing of Floyd are facing prosecution for second-degree murder and aiding and abetting murder. The upgraded charges for Derek Chauvin and the charges for three other officers by the Minnesota attorney general only happened after days of protest following Floyd’s death and Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman’s initial reluctance to prosecute the men and decision to file lesser charges against Chauvin. The delay in holding these officers accountable for their alleged criminal actions was one of the major galvanizing forces for the current movement.

A Reckoning in the Press

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

While the protests did not explicitly address this goal, they have forced multiple prominent news organizations to undergo consequential public reckonings over coverage of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement as well as general treatment of staff members of color. Most notably, James Bennet, once considered a top candidate to be the next editor of the New York Times, resigned from his position as the Times’ editorial page editor after failing to properly vet an editorial by Sen. Tom Cotton that called on the U.S. military to violently confront the public assemblies in cities and towns across the country. Similarly, on Monday, Refinery29 co-founder and editor Christene Barberich stepped down following public criticisms by former employees of color who said that they experienced discrimination on the job. These high-profile resignations were preceded by the ousting of the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who resigned after an uproar over a front-page headline in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that read “Buildings Matter, Too.” While the public reckoning over the media’s treatment of the protest movement and police brutality has not necessarily been one of the larger public goals of the movement, that reckoning is still one profound consequence of these protests. Even with all that it has accomplished thus far, it’s clear that the efforts of these protesters are nowhere near finished.

Correction, June 8, 2020: This piece originally misstated the percentage of people who responded to a CNN poll saying the recent peaceful protests were justified. It was 84 percent, not 88 percent.

Correction, June 9, 2020: This piece originally misstated that Los Angeles was cutting its police budget by $150 billion.

Advertisement