Richard Wallace, founder and executive director of Equity and Transformation, poses for a portrait in Chicago on Monday, March 22, 2021. As Minneapolis braces for Monday’s opening statements in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-officer who is charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death, so does the world. “George Floyd has taken systemic racism from personal problem to America’s issue,” Wallace said. “It’s clear we’re seeing a growing and maturing of a movement.” (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Richard Wallace, founder and executive director of Equity and Transformation, poses for a portrait in Chicago on Monday, March 22, 2021. As Minneapolis braces for Monday’s opening statements in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-officer who is charged with murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death, so does the world. “George Floyd has taken systemic racism from personal problem to America’s issue,” Wallace said. “It’s clear we’re seeing a growing and maturing of a movement.” (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

VIDEO: George Floyd spurred broad push for change globally, activists say

Minneapolis is bracing for Monday’s opening statements in the trial of Derek Chauvin

Richard Wallace had seen it all before, and he wasn’t hopeful.

It was, he thought, the same old story: Police kill a Black person, protests erupt, politicians pledge reforms and corporations offer platitudes about supporting needed change. But Wallace, the 38-year-old founder and executive director of Equity and Transformation, a social and economic justice advocacy group in Chicago, came to realize that this time was different.

This time the victim was George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black father of five captured in a sickening citizen video taking his final breaths under a white officer’s knee. And this time, the victim would become a global symbol for change much broader than criminal justice reform.

“George Floyd has taken systemic racism from personal problem to America’s issue,” Wallace said. “It’s clear we’re seeing a growing and maturing of a movement.”

As Minneapolis braces for Monday’s opening statements in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-officer who is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, so does the world. Floyd was the spark that set the U.S. ablaze. In the days and months after his death on Memorial Day, millions of Americans, along with thousands in cities abroad, took to the streets in protests that were often peaceful but sometimes violent and destructive.

Even as many new supporters rallied to the Black Lives Matter cause, then-President Donald Trump’s move to transform the unrest into a winning political issue, and his embrace of white supremacism, left the U.S. seemingly more divided on issues than ever.

Still, Floyd’s global impact is undeniable. Federal, state and local governments have taken concrete steps — like supporting reparations and reinvesting in community resources — to address decades of harm visited on Black Americans and other minorities. Corporations, nonprofits, media and the entertainment industry have launched promising diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

People will remember 2020 not just as a year of upheaval over Floyd, but as a year in which people demanded and took bold action toward systemic change, said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and activist in Minneapolis. But, she added, much more of it is needed.

For Levy Armstrong, the stakes of the trial are high. The former Minneapolis NAACP branch president has watched her community rise up in response to unchecked police violence, only to have their spirits crushed by an acquittal and lack of grand jury indictments in the cases of Philando Castile, a Black man killed by police in a nearby suburb in 2016, and Jamar Clark, a Black man killed by city police in 2015.

“We have for too long lived inside of a culture of ignorance, not just in the U.S. but worldwide,” she said. “I don’t think that this country in particular, but the world itself, has ever had to reconcile the mistreatment, the abuse and the dehumanization of Black folks. But for some people, they’re now beginning to see we have a problem, and we need to begin to take steps to address these problems.”

Her assessment of the international impact of the case is not hyperbole. Some of the protests abroad — in Asia, the U.K., France and other European nations — rivaled American demonstrations last summer.

“Having the Black Lives movement embraced the way it was in this country was painfully healing, because it’s not nice to have an occasion like the tragic death of George Floyd be the reason for people to acknowledge what you’ve been trying to share,” said Sylvana Simons, who won a seat in the Dutch Parliament in elections held this month.

Community House for Supportive Development, a grassroots nongovernmental organization in Paris, joined five other NGOs in January to launch the first class-action lawsuit targeting France’s police. The suit alleges a culture of systemic and racial discrimination in on-the-street identity checks.

Floyd “was a real catalyst, and not just in France, an earthquake, like a tsunami over the entire planet. In lots of countries,” said the group’s founder, Omer Mas Capitolin, who is Black. “In France today, we are all potential George Floyds.”

In the U.S., the House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that implements bans on racial profiling, chokeholds, no-knock warrants and other law enforcement tactics that have precipitated the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

However, the legislation’s chances in a Senate very narrowly controlled by Democrats are slim, and the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of more than 150 grassroots organizations associated with the BLM movement, has opposed the legislation as inadequate.

According to the police reform advocacy organization Campaign Zero, the number of people killed by police in the U.S. in 2020 was the second most since 2013, when it began tracking those figures.

Nearly 1,130 people were killed by police last year, and 58% of those deaths either began during traffic stops, in police responses to mental health crises or in situations where the person was reportedly not threatening anyone with a gun, according to the group’s report.

Still, group co-founder Sam Sinyangwe said, “There are some shifts happening. And there’s the potential to make massive changes through some of the solutions that are being implemented or piloted in cities, in response to protests.”

And many are looking to carry the push for change well beyond the outcome of the trial, in Floyd’s name and in the names of so many others.

“What the Black Lives Matter movement has done is use these various incidents to allow us to reevaluate the underlying cultural narrative,” said David Hooker, associate professor of the practice of conflict transformation and peacebuilding at Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.

Hooker, Wallace and others say that narrative — with its neat assignment of people into “good” and “bad” categories — promotes violence against racial minorities and aims to keep them from flourishing.

Floyd, they say, is a perfect example: Here was a man who was once imprisoned but was striving to make a better life for himself and his family. His life mattered more than the few, less-savory details about his past that had been reported in the press and that could come up in his accused killer’s trial, said Wallace, who is also a member of the Movement for Black Lives’ national policy leadership team.

“That’s how racism works,” he said. “It’s about the bifurcation of Black people into silos of those deserving and undeserving of love, care, respect, or whatever.”

After being incarcerated for a run-in with the law during his early adult years, Wallace gained national recognition as the rapper, Epic. He also dedicated his life to activism, receiving Roosevelt University’s Matthew Freeman Social Justice Award among other achievements.

Then, earlier this month, Wallace said he had the kind of experience that reminds Black people “exactly who you are and what place you’re in.”

Combining a work trip to Los Angeles with family time for his daughter’s seventh birthday, Wallace booked a stay through Airbnb — a company that, as he points out, released a statement reaffirming its commitment to fight racism days after Floyd’s death and donated $500,000 to the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

But Airbnb informed Wallace through email that his account was deactivated and his reservation cancelled because a background report flagged Wallace’s criminal record from nearly two decades ago. Reached for comment, Airbnb said it implemented an appeals process in 2019 for people who feel they’ve been unfairly barred from using its service.

“We failed to clearly communicate to (Wallace) that this was even an option,” said Christopher Nulty, a spokesperson for the hospitality platform. He added that Wallace’s account was restored on Friday.

Still, for Wallace, the situation confirmed to him that systemic change has to be deep and structural.

“You’ll march for George Floyd,” the activist said, “but would you have hired him?”

____

Morrison reported from New York City. Noreen Nasir in Minneapolis, Elaine Ganley and Jeff Schaeffer in Paris, and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

___

Morrison is a member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team.

Aaron Morrison, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

PoliceRacial injusticeUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will speed up the process for hospitality businesses looking to set up patios during the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Under the most recent restrictions, indoor dining is prohibited, but patio dining is allowed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen speeds up patio permit approval

Initiative to help hospitality businesses affected by latest COVID-19 restrictions

Firefighters responded to a house fire on Banks Crescent in Summerland on Friday afternoon. The fire began as a stovetop fire but resulted in significant damages. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Fire results in damage to Summerland home

Crews called on Friday, April 9 following stovetop fire

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

The Town of Oliver’s Town Offices, which the town wants to get designated a heritage site. (Black Press)
Oliver council to weigh nixing alerts for water leaks

Staff say the policy has served its purpose in fixing the majority of leaks

(Stock photo)
Snow levels above normal in Okanagan

Spring temperatures, rainfall will affect risk of flooding

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Nolan's Pharmasave in downtown Vernon received 200 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines Friday, April 9, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
AstraZeneca vaccines arrive at Vernon pharmacies

Four pharmacies in the city received doses of the COVID-19 inoculant Friday

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on Thursday, April 8. (Contributed)
Revelstoke yoga class fined for defying COVID-19 orders

The RCMP were called to the Alchemy Studio on April 8

An East Hill resident had their leaf bags torched in front of their home overnight April 8. Less than two weeks prior their garbage can was lit on fire too. (Taryn Allen photo)
Garbage, leaf fires spark fear in North Okanagan

First an East Hill residents’ trash can, then bagged leaves were lit on fire

Okanagan-based All Are Family Outreach Society, which provides support to those struggling from Armstrong to Kelowna, is in need of a new headquarters after leaving a Winfield church in June 2020. (All Are Family Outreach photo)
Okanagan outreach society in ‘desperate’ need after storage unit break-in

All Are Family Outreach had $4,000 in tools stolen from its donation shipping container

Most Read