Skip to main content Skip to navigation

History News

Show all news items

Did George Floyd’s case mark a watershed?

Did George Floyd’s case mark a watershed?


On Tuesday 20th of April, weeks of tension was brought to an end as Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd. Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man lost his life on May 25th, 2020, as a result of Chauvin’s unlawful actions, concluded the jury. Mr Floyd’s death catalysed worldwide protests and refocused the ongoing issue of the brutalisation of African American citizens by law enforcement officials in the United States.[1] For many this verdict was a cause of celebration but for others it was just the beginning of a much larger quest for reform.


The George Floyd trial sparked worldwide attention, raising debates of whether Derek Chauvin would really be held accountable for his actions and if this case would be the one that would prove a catalyst for improved US race relations. Historically, law enforcement officials had not been held accountable for their actions, which explains the worrying data regarding police accountability and successful prosecutions. Since 2005, of 140 officers charged in fatal shootings, only 44 have been convicted, and always for a lesser offence. [2] This can be explained by the existence of protective measures like the Doctrine of Qualified Immunity of 1871, which protects government officials and law enforcement from liability unless the official clearly violated an established constitutional right. [3]


The recent actions of law enforcement can be traced to a unique history of racialised violence in the US, as slave patrols were precursors to the police. Following emancipation law enforcement were at best passive observers, and sometimes active participants, in lynchings and the continued brutalisation of African Americans. It is through this unique history, engulfed in systemic racism, that indemnity and lack of accountability has been afforded to officials. This has been exacerbated and enabled through the continuation of institutionalised racism within the criminal justice system, which has entrenched a veil of protection for state sanctioned violence. Mr Floyd’s case however marked a clear watershed in the realm of accountability of police officers. Most significantly by the testimonies of Chief Medaria Arradondo and Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman from the Minneapolis Police Department who came forward condemning the actions of Chauvin as a ‘clear violation of police procedures.’[4] Since the verdict the United States Justice Department has announced plans to investigate policing practices in Minneapolis to examine if there is a pattern of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. This evidently indicates a break from the past and this accountability we have seen is one step forward to addressing systemic issues and a break from the culture of ‘the blue walls of silence.’


The actual verdict which found Chauvin guilty on all three charges certainly marks a turning point when compared to previous US history but should not be misconstrued as to have solved the ongoing issue of systemic racism that has enabled the recurrent killings of African Americans by the police. While many saw the verdict as a cause of celebration, we must remember this is simply a reflection of what true law and order is and the consequences of what happens when a crime has been committed. Therefore, while Chauvin being found guilty is a small measure of justice, his conviction is an indictment of the system. It came at a poignant time in the US, as during the trial, another young Black man, Daunte Wright was also shot by police. This shows the issue goes far beyond the Floyd case. While for many Chauvin’s verdict may act as a beacon of hope and act as a catalyst for real change, the impetus for change must carry on.


To continue this momentum, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, passed by the United States House of Representatives on the 24th of February 2021, needs to be passed into law. This legislation aims to curb police misconduct, use of excessive force and racial bias in policing. The same goes for the passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act 2019 has likewise been stalled by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. This legislation named after Emmett Till, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, would make lynching a federal crime and ensure punishment for the violation of Civil Rights Act 1968.[5] Only the passage of both of these laws would mark a commitment to combatting the unlawful and extra-judicial deaths of African Americans. Time will tell if Mr Floyd’s case has reconfigured the need for racial equality or if it only worked to derail the momentum away from bringing about meaningful changes in policing and the wider criminal justice system.


Neyat Solomon Zerabruk

Final year History student.



Mon 26 Apr 2021, 13:30 | Tags: Research, Undergraduate, Expert Comment