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: George Floyd's 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.
George Floyd's murder exposes how police are 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.
The George Floyd 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.
Police immunity means murders like George Floyd's go unpunished
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.
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 the state. In the US, blacks are significantly more likely to be imprisoned, murdered by police and arrested for minor crimes.
The response to George Floyd's murder has increased surveillance
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.
George Floyd's murder exposes problems with the censorship of the press
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.
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.
The police are violent towards people protesting the murder of George Floyd
Ruthless police behavior 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 tear gas, and threatening the unarmed with physical altercations. This is a deliberate effort to undermine the calls of the protestors for an end to institutional racism.
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.
Society creates the nation: George Floyd's 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.
George Floyd murder has placed America 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.
The George Floyd protests emboldens groups like Antifa
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.
The George Floyd protests 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.
George Floyd's murder exposed rampant capitalism and 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.
The George Floyd protests 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.
The riots have exposed a contradiction in American values - a contradiction perpetuated by right-wing politics
America prides itself in being the 'land of the free,' and yet George Floyd's murder is one in a long list of black Americans who do not enjoy that freedom. The denial of racism in America by many right-wing politicians only perpetuates the grave injustice.
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.
Leaders create nations: George Floyd's 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.
Poor leadership has led America 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.
An absence of leadership has led America into crisis
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.
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.
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.
The crisis has grown out of protracted American 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.
George Floyd's 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 had a criminal history and was resisting arrest
George Floyd had a history of criminal offences and had been to prison numerous times. Whilst he did not deserve to die in the way that he did, he should not be turned into a martyr for injustices suffered by innocent black people as he himself was by no means innocent.
George Floyd was a convicted criminal. He had spent five years in jail for robbery and assault and was accused of previous crimes. He was not the innocent victim that mainstream media reports suggest. It is not surprising, given this long criminal history, that he was treated with suspicion by police.
The George Floyd response has been completely unjustified
No amount of injustice warrants the destruction of America’s streets. The reaction is unproductive, disproportionate, and lawless, giving free rein to opportunistic criminals and anarchists- while tarnishing George Floyd's legacy. What we need is a mediated approach.
The George Floyd murder 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.
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.
George Floyd's murder 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.
Gun laws increase levels of paranoia on both sides of the law
The current state of gun laws in the US has created, and continuously feeds a state of paranoia that reaches both those in law enforcement and members of the public. It creates a vicious cycle; the laws make it too easy for a member of the public to acquire a firearm, which leads to heightened paranoia in officers that an individual they have stopped is carrying a weapon. This leads to a high rate of police brutality/murder by police, and in turn leads the public to lose trust in the police, and turn to other methods of protection i.e. a gun
Lax gun laws allow people to suppress the ideas of other people
Making it easier to obtain guns creates an environment that has the potential to silence others by intimidating them into submission, especially if the owners of the guns do not share the same ideologies as those they are trying to intimidate.