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How do we think about the George Floyd murder?

On May 25 2020, George Floyd was suffocated to death by the police. Floyd had been arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. In chilling footage that would go viral within 24 hours, officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes ignoring Floyd's repeated pleas for him to move. The asphyxiation led to his cardiac arrest. Floyd's death has so far inspired protests across more than 75 US cities, calling for an end to police brutality and institutional racism. The responses to these riots have included state-wide curfews, the threat of military intervention, attacks on the media and civilian arrests. The situation has given rise to a complex debate with commentators arguing over what precisely it has exposed about contemporary America. So, who are these groups, what do they stand for, and why?

Our freedom is at stake: the murder exposes a crisis of civil liberties

This approach believes that this crisis hinges on the relationship between the state and the individual. It focuses on police brutality and state-sanctioned violence against innocent citizens.

Attacks on the press are undermining freedom of speech

The live-on-air arrest of Minneapolis' CNN crew typifies this shocking issue. The US Press Freedom Tracker estimates that in the days since the attack, there have already been at least 100 press freedom violations. Free and fair media reporting is crucial for functioning democracy. Without it, the US risks falling into a despotic regime. Proponents include Tom Jones of Poynter and the CPJ. Explore

The state is threatening individual freedom

As far-right extremists the Big Igloo Bois wrote on their Facebook page to rally a citizen’s militia to the riots: “This is not a race issue. For far too long we have allowed them to murder us in our homes, and in the streets.” The group were referring to the police and law enforcement, pointing to the violent subjugation of citizens by state. Proponents include far-right ‘citizen militia’ groups, anti-state activists and hard right libertarians. Explore

We must overturn "qualified immunity"

US law privileges police. "Qualified immunity" means that they are largely protected even when their actions lead to avoidable or unnecessary deaths. The group argues that without this safeguard, police would no longer be able to unleash the brutality that has fuelled the current crisis. Therefore, abolishing this law is the necessary condition for change. Proponents include the conservative Michigan Representative Justin Amash and VP for Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute Clark Neily. Explore

The riots are detracting from the real issue at hand

The scale of violence and looting in the wake of George Floyd's murder distracts from the main issue. As small businesses are ravaged and livelihoods are destroyed, the narrative of social justice is being hijacked. This is increasingly dangerous as opposition groups paint rioters as thugs and in doing so, legitimise violence against them. If the issue at hand is institutional racism and the gruesome treatment of blacks in US society - rioting is detrimental to the cause. Proponents of this group include Quartz reporter Annalisa Merelli. Explore

The police are encouraging violence to undermine protestors

Ruthless police behaviour during these riots is symptomatic of the broader issue. Across the nation they have actively encouraged peaceful protestors to turn to violence by firing rubber bullets, unleashing pepper spray, and, threatening the unarmed with truncheons and punches. This is a deliberate effort to undermine the calls of the protestors for an end to institutional racism. And it is a conscious move to protect law enforcement privilege by turning the issue back on this who oppose it. Proponents include the New York Times Editorial board. Explore

The George Floyd debate is really about the right to life

The state has failed to protect our most fundamental freedom: the right to life. This crisis has unfolded as a last resort, after decades in which the right to life can no longer be guaranteed by the law. In fact, it is often those meant to uphold it that who threaten it most. Proponents include the New York Times Editorial board. Explore

The George Floyd crisis exposes deep institutional racism

George Floyd has become a powerful symbol for the racial injustice faced by non-whites in the US and beyond. Protestors are now railing against decades of deprivation faced by minority communities and propped up by the machinery of state. In the US, blacks are more significantly likely to be imprisoned, murdered by police and arrested for minor crimes. The stigma they carry, by virtue of their skin colour, causes multi-generational suffering - largely contributing to the lopsided economic, social and political inequalities faced by these groups. This horrific incident is an opportunity to tear down the institutions that uphold these values. Proponents include former President George W. Bush, the NAACP and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Explore

Crushing protests is unpatriotic because it violates the constitution’s protected freedom of speech and ignores American culture

The problem with the police and military shutdowns of these protests is a constitutional one. It is a direct violation of the ensured right to free speech. The fact that these orders are coming from the President illustrates a dangerous shift towards a nation deprived of its fundamental rights. Once the right to protest has been taken away, our civil liberties hang by a thread; and so does what it means to be an American. Explore

America risks turning into a surveillance state

President Trump's intentions to label Antifa an official terrorist group is a dangerous move towards a heavy-handed surveillance state. The group has neither leadership nor ideology, and organises itself informally. To outlaw, it would effectively sanction arbitrary policing. Explore

Leaders create nations: the murder exposes the ongoing American political crisis

This approach believes that political machinations are responsible for civil unrest and social stability. In this case, the response from political leadership has allowed the murder to grow into a national catastrophe.

An absence of leadership has led the nation into chaos

There has not been poor decision making from above. Because there has not been any decision making from above. President Trump’s White House blackout and decision to ignore the escalating national crisis as it began, gave the riots space to flourish. As the Washington Post reported: “Trump and some of his advisers calculated that he should not speak to the nation because he had nothing new to say and had no tangible policy or action to announce yet, according to a senior administration official.” Proponents of this view include Fox News journalist Tucker Carlson and The Atlantic writer David A. Graham. Explore

Russia is puppeteering the crisis from behind the scenes

Following their secret online intervention in the 2016 Presidential election, many believe the Russian state has once more been using social media to aggravate tensions. Explore

President Trump is weaponising the crisis for personal gain

Trump has made a series of unfounded claims, variously blaming the violence on Democrat officials, Antifa and former Vice President Joe Biden. He has also called out Democrat governors and mayors for being weak in the face of crisis, and refusing to crack down with more militaristic measures. In doing so, he is creating a false dichotomy between the 'weak left' and 'strong right'. Many see his response as political opportunism in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Proponents including CNN reporter Marshall Cohen and Guardian DC Bureau Chief David Smith. Explore

The age of American authoritarianism is approaching

President Trump's call for political leaders to crush riots with violence signals a sharp turn towards authoritarianism. As riots tore across America, Trump sanctioned a violent attack on peaceful protestors by military and police across from the White House. Explore

The crisis has grown out of protracted political failures

The current crisis and the structural inequality it represents are the direct results of historical political failures. Early civil rights activists called for socio-economic inclusion and were ignored. The result is the growth of a deeply segregated state, where law enforcement protects the white and the wealthy from minorities. Explore

Poor leadership has led the nation into chaos

The issue lies in the failure of President Trump to understand the gravity of the unfolding crisis, or, to care for the cries of protestors. As former Vice President Biden said of Trump's erratic and despotic behaviour on the issue: “This president today is part of the problem and accelerates it.” Rather than unite the nation in a time of chaos, Trump has seeded division. Proponents include Biden, and Jewish and Christian leaders including Rabbi Jack Moline, President of the Interfaith Alliance. Explore

The murder is simply a murder: It is not representative of wider issues

This approach believes that an isolated murder cannot be used to make broader points about America, its society, and politics.

George Floyd was a criminal

George Floyd was a convicted criminal. He had spent five years in jail for robbery and assault, as well as facing court countless other times for crimes ranging from drug handling to theft with a firearm. He was not the innocent victim that mainstream media reports suggest. It is hardly surprising given this long criminal history, that he was treated with suspicion by police. Proponents include Police Union President Bob Kroll. Explore

The black community has unleashed an anti-white campaign of violence

Wherever you stand on whether George Floyd's murder was justified is irrelevant. The chaos that has unfolded in its wake is where we should be focusing our attention. Black communities have instigated an anti-white movement under the guise of 'equality and justice'. They are destroying (mostly) white businesses in nightly rampages that leave communities terrified and broken. At the heart of the riots is racist hatred towards whites, which is now playing out in this national campaign. Proponents include far-right NRA activists, such as the online AK Files community. Explore

The George Floyd protests are completely unjustified

The riots are an appalling, disproportionate reaction to an everyday crime. A single murder is no justification for the anarchy that is unfolding on the streets of America. These lawless riots are razing cities to the ground. There is no excuse and they must be stopped: the scale of carnage is completely disproportionate. In many cases, criminals with no interest in the issues being discussed are taking advantage of the situation for personal gain. It has given criminals free license to operate. Proponents include commentator Meghan McCain, Senator Ted Cruz, and the Columbia Bugle Editorial Board. Explore

George Floyd's murder does not represent black innocence

All lives matter. It is wrong to look at a single, unfortunate murder and read it as representative of a wider, national concern. Explore

George Floyd's murder was justified

The role of the police is to prevent crime and to protect society from dangerous individuals. The police were responding to a call from a concerned shopkeeper when they dealt with George Floyd. While the situation might have spiralled out of control, Derek Chauvin was doing his job. Unfortunately, accidental deaths stemming from police intervention are part and parcel of American society. This is a necessary sacrifice for social stability and functioning democracy. Explore

Society creates the nation: the murder exposes America’s deepening social cleavages

This approach believes that deep social divisions are at the heart of the issue. The murder has galvanised violence and unrest because of the more intrinsic identities that it represents.

Antifa is the "woke" brand of domestic terrorism

That the antifa movement has taken hold of American cities so quickly is extremely disturbing. This brand of domestic terrorism celebrates the looting, pillaging, burning and destruction of shops, cars, buildings and streets. It is an ideology that threatens the fabric of American society, and must be squashed before it does any more damage. Proponents of this group include President Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Explore

The riots are part of the fight for truth

As this crisis balloons, it is clear that is does not exist alone. It exists alongside Covid, the China trade war, and other big issues of the moment. Why? It is ultimately an issue of truth: in all of these situations, anger, fear and distrust grow as leadership obscures the truth and replaces it with propagandising lies. The problem here is that trust in the state and law enforcement is now so eroded, there is no clear exit route. Proponents include Yahoo! Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. Explore

America is on the brink of a race war

The murder has exposed America’s burgeoning race war. Groups such as American white-supremacist social network The Base, have ramped up recruitment efforts since the riots. These groups are unified by their rallying cry for a white-on-black race war and the collapse of society. The deepening civil unrest is an opportunity for a racially charged civil war. Proponents include historian Stuart Wexler. Explore

Rampant capitalism has created a broken society

This is a class issue. For too long American social and political organisation has been built on a single uniting value: the pursuit of wealth at any cost. This has trickled down into every cell of social life, breeding inequality, deprivation and unrest. It has redefined the American state by exclusion and marginalisation; those at the bottom are characterised by their subordination. This is now felt in healthcare, welfare, agency - and the way they are treated within society. The riots are just one element of its collapse and the fight for a more just society, and realignment of American values. The riots are as Professor Cornell West describes it, a call for "what we need is a nonviolent revolutionary project of full-scale democratic sharing — power, wealth, resources, respect, organizing — and a fundamental transformation of this American Empire." Proponents include West and Fox anchor Tucker Carlson. Explore

The riots are an opportunity for peaceful revolution

While people disagree over the root of these riots, and the focus of current anger, we can agree on one thing. This is a pivotal moment for the citizens' voices to be heard. To have reached this point, there is clearly something wrong with the relationship between the state and those it governs. Now is the time to channel our beliefs and our dreams for a more equal society into a peaceful protest. Greater coherence and organisation is needed; and the violence must end if it is to be taken seriously. The moment for long-awaited change is finally here. Proponents include Professor Cornell West. Explore

The riots have exposed a contradiction in American values

The myth of America is that it is a land of opportunity. The riots have shown that the problem of modern America is reconciling two competing values. Namely, that "it is a land of opportunity for some more than others". How we navigate that irony will define the next stage in American history. Proponents include the eminent historian Clayborne Carson. Explore

American racism does not exist

America is not a racist country. In every state blacks and whites live side by side in harmony. The current rhetoric is breeding a racism and hatred that doesn't exist. It is institutionalising the perception of a country wrought with division. And weaponising this false idea to sow discord. The version of society the rioters are creating, does not reflect the reality. This imaginary state has become a political tool in a fight against the rule of law. Proponents of this view include Daily Signal columnist Star Parker. Explore

This is a structural issue: American gun laws are to blame

The US gun laws mean every police engagement is potentially life threatening. Corrupted by their power over life and death, police feel above the law, which feeds their behaviour and how others respond to them.

This page was last edited on Monday, 15 Jun 2020 at 23:58 UTC


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