Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 105, 10 June 2020

Black Lives Matter brings the US to its knees
Rahul Arockiaraj

In the news

Black Lives Matter. As Floyd got buried the last week, these words have been echoed all across the major cities throughout the world, calling an end to injustice, racism, and police brutality in the United States. What started with George Floyd's tragic death has transformed into a large movement that has mobilized large numbers of people that have not been seen since the likes of the Civil Rights Movement, despite most of the country still being in quarantine. 

Meanwhile, in the US, there is an attempt to "defund" the police. Congress is working on a new bill to address the issue of policing and racism.

Issues at Large

First issue is defunding police. While this may sound like a drastic measure, most think tanks and organizations promoting the idea have confirmed that the plan would involve divesting funds from the massive national policing budget towards other neighbourhood programs such as mental health resources, social workers, and other neighbourhood programs centred around security and safety. Los Angeles took the first step; Minneapolis, the birthplace of this movement, followed it. As more local governments moved to make drastic changes to their city or county's police culture, all eyes shifted towards the decisions federal government would make.

Second issue is relating to the Democrats unveiling the "Justice in Policing Act." It aims to ban chokeholds, create a registry of police misconduct, mandate a training program against racial profiling, and most notably making changes to qualified immunity, all of which direct responses to the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. While this bill does not resemble the 'defund police movement' sparked by the protest, democrats have preached how the bill would be the 'first step' in effectively changing police culture and targeting systematic racism. Though democrats seem to be unanimously backing this bill, especially considering its moderate liberal values compared to other requests made by protestors, not all republicans are on board. 

Third issue, the biggest one is racism. While legislation reforms can address systematic racism, the answer to addressing the hundreds of years of blatant injustice and racism rooted in American society may be complex. 

In perspective

Just a few weeks ago, the statement that America should 'defund the police' would be considered far from reasonable. However, it is currently a serious question asked amongst many legislators. In fact, this proposed movement should not be considered 'radical' as President Trump suggests. 

Despite the large magnitude of support for the divesting of police funding,  the Democrats moved to enact a bill that is much more moderate in nature. As speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi stated: "True justice can only be achieved with full, comprehensive action. This is the first step. There is more to come." If there is, in fact, "more to come," then this undoubtedly would be a great first step in changing the culture of police brutality within the system. 

Beyond agencies and organizations pushing specific legislation and Congress' actions within the past week, this particular movement is more concerned with another issue: how to address cultural racism, as a whole. While there is a multitude of different manners to address racism in America, one step that we can all take, is to look at "Black Lives Matter," from the perspective of human and not political analysis. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican Senator from Utah, was seen amidst the thousands of protestors in Washington DC All of which suggests that this movement, sparked by the public lynching of George Floyd, is far more than a political issue. To quote the thousands of tweets concerned with the issue, "It is a human rights issue."

Rahul Arockiaraj is with the Brandeis University, Boston, Massachusetts.

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