Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi reflects on what has really changed since Floyd’s tragic murder
On 25 May 2020, the world changed forever after George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. Footage of the lynching, which was filmed on a phone by a bystander, went viral. Millions watched in horror as Floyd had the life squeezed out of him by Derek Chauvin, who pinned him down with his knee for nine minutes and 29 seconds as his victim cried out for his mother. His death prompted an uprising on an unprecedented scale.
Over 26 million people around the world marched not only in solidarity for the many Black men and women who have been killed at the hands of the police, but also because they too were affected by racism in some form. Tens of thousands joined the Black Lives Matter movement, an organisation that was launched in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. For those privileged enough not to face racial injustice, Floyd’s murder and the public reckoning that followed meant it was no longer possible to turn a blind eye to its existence. In the UK, racist statues were toppled, heated debates were had about institutional racism and demands were called for changes to be made to the country’s white-washed school curriculum.
Huge strides have been made, but dismantling the deeply-rooted pillars of white supremacy is not an overnight fix. The British government denied that the UK had a problem with institutional racism via its controversial reports, while numerous other Black men and women were killed by the police in the US. There is a lot that hasn’t changed since the statues fell. Many countries, including our own, still have a way to go before finally confronting an uncomfortable history and current reality.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi has been instrumental in ensuring the civil rights movement remains at the forefront. One of most influential human rights leaders of the century according to Time magazine, she is the first woman to receive the International Peace Honor in 2021. We talked to her to find out what has really changed since Floyd’s murder, what still needs to be done to eliminate racism and how his name should be remembered in history.
To what extent has the murder of George Floyd helped in terms of eradicating racism?
“This might be hard to hear, but not much has changed in terms of racism. Racism is a set of ideas about the value of Black people, so it can’t be resolved over one horrifying, tragic incident. It might illuminate it, but it cannot remedy the problem entirely. The way in which George Floyd died – a police officer slowly crushing the life out of him – was symbolic of the torture and inequality experienced by Black people who routinely have the life snuffed out of them, both literally and metaphorically, while people are watching. There is still no substantial or real intervention to prevent this from happening again.”