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Remembering George Floyd’s death: lessons to take away from the police bodycam video

On the 25th of May 2020, 46-year-old Black American George Floyd, a Minneapolis resident, was killed while in police custody by Officer Derek Chauvin. He had been handcuffed, volunteered to lie face down against the ground, and then his neck was knelt on for eight minutes. All while he was begging for his life, stating that he could not breathe. He was detained under suspicion of using a false 20 dollar bill. These are the facts.

The death of George Floyd had a monumental effect on a global level. It sparked one of the most significant revivals of the Black Lives Matter Movement, with people taking to the street not only to protest Floyd’s unjust death but to protest the inherently corrupt police system and the unequal treatment of people of colour by political and social systems of power. Floyd died in May 2020, and nearly three months on his name is still an emblem of protest, a figure that sparked global outrage and desire for change.

On the 3rd of August 2020, the police bodycam footage from the arrest was released by the Daily Mail. As a result, the media has once again burst into a discussion of the incident that occurred in May. The release of the bodycam footage is, of course, an integral part of the investigation. However, it has also provided those of a more right-leaning political, and moral, compass with ammunition to smear Floyd’s memory, and in turn, the Black Lives Matter Movement.

It must be stated that releasing and watching the bodycam footage of George Floyd feeds into the already rife dehumanisation of victims of police brutality, and trivialisation of the suffering of Black people. In the digital age, the brutalisation of citizens, specifically people of colour, by the police, is no longer a private affair. It is not just the media that that shares the videos; the videos are shared on Facebook, Twitter; they become stories on Instagram, they are shared on group chats, they breed a hysteria that comes with bearing witness to violence. Walter Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed Black American being fatally shot in 2015; Eric Garner pleading with his arresting officer, begging for his life; George Floyd in 2020, terrified and trapped. Their trauma plays out millions of times over, shared across the globe.

The trauma of these events live on and bleed into the lives of all that watch them: on the one hand, these are crucial moments that allow the public to see the cruelty and corruption of a police system that is only able to safely detain suspects through excessive force. On the other hand, the rapid spread of videos containing such violence becomes part of a ‘linked fate’—Black Americans are forced to watch as people who look like them, their loved ones, their family, their community, are brutalised. They have to carry with them the horrors of viewing what they already know to be a reality. They become burdened with the fear that perhaps one day, they will be the one being watched. Scientists believe that the weight of these videos includes increased anxiety, fear, anger, stress, and distrust of power systems. While they are distressing for all to watch, they are especially distressing when they are portraying a power system that you know is weighted against you.

We all fear injustice, fear that the system will not protect us, but for people of colour—still, in the year 2020—the fear is ever-present and wholly justified. The George Floyd footage is not only, once again, a traumatising depiction of a man who should not be dead, it has also become a weapon used to lambast the movement. Twitter has erupted with public figures stating that the footage ‘exonerates police’, and that people ‘burned down their cities over nothing’. These statements suggest that the release of the bodycam footage so late after the death of Floyd is some political ploy to incite unrest. In this way, the footage of a distressed individual, who like many of us, has watched the brutalisation of Black people at the hands of the police for his whole life, becomes a tool to justify his death.

Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. Floyd died as a result. These are the facts.

The ensuing legal actions are not unjustified; the global movement that erupted was not solely due to Floyd’s death—he was the tip of the iceberg, a momentous iceberg steeped in centuries of corruption and inequality. The issue is not an American one, it is global, and it is dangerous: in the UK we know that law enforcement is biased against people of colour, especially Black British people who have the highest stop and search rates. We have our traumas; Sarah Reed, Rashan Charles, Edson Da Costa, the latter’s arresting officers being cleared of all charges. We could talk about the fact that the last time a police officer was convicted for a death in their custody was 2007, ten years before Rashan Charles’ unjust death. This is historical trauma, a cycle of oppression and abuse that is only just now being addressed.

The release of the bodycam footage of George Floyd’s untimely and unjust death changes nothing. It does not change the anger, or the outcry for justice, it does not negate the atrocities committed by the police. What it does is feed further into the generational and societal trauma that Black people face. It proves that there are still people who hold Black people to a higher standard, expect them to be calm in the face of situations they have seen already play out on their screens, read about in the news, experienced themselves. Being Black and afraid should not be a crime, and the bodycam footage of Floyd’s tragic death should not be a weapon to use against victims of police brutality: we should interpret it as another horrific reminder of the trauma that Black people are still forced to bear.