Culture Re-View: Europe Three Years After the Assassination of George Floyd

What happened on that day in 2020 was numbingly familiar to many black Americans. George Floyd, an African American man in his 40s, was murdered by white police officer Derek Chauvin while he was arresting Floyd. It was just the latest example of racist police brutality in the United States, and it came just two months after 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was killed in her home when plainclothes police officers stormed inside.

Maybe it was the livestream of Floyd’s murder letting the world hear him begging Chauvin that he couldn’t breathe that caused his murder to inspire such a huge international reaction. Perhaps it had something to do with time. At the time, much of the world was still on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watching Floyd die in real time while people were trapped at home, cut off from family and friends may have had something to do with the scale of the condemnation of the moment. Whatever it was, while police brutality was nothing new to the black community in the US, Floyd’s death sparked a greater appreciation of racism.

Looking back on his death three years later, it is remarkable how much impact it had on communities not only in the United States but throughout Europe.

The protests began in Minneapolis, where Floyd lived, but soon spread across the Atlantic to various European cities. Despite the restrictions related to the pandemic, demonstrations took place in almost every European country. Many of the protests were organized by local branches of the Black Lives Matter political movement, which enjoyed growing support at the time.

The biggest protests took place in the capitals, with thousands of people gathering at large events in Helsinki, Reykjavik, Stockholm, London, Lisbon, Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Zurich. Many of the events were peaceful in nature, although some saw major law enforcement intervention due to pandemic guidelines.

In the UK, protests over Floyd’s murder have reignited discussion of the country’s racism issues, with protesters in Bristol tearing down a statue of slave owner Edward Colston and throwing it into the harbour.

The reaction on social media was also noteworthy as many people posted black squares on Instagram to highlight the event. Much of the news across Europe focused on how racism is still prevalent in European societies.

The rise of Black Lives Matter “was the spark of many changes and discussions in Europe about police violence,” said Ojeaku Nwabuzo, senior research officer at the European Network Against Racism Euronews one year after Floyd’s death.

One of the largest actions in Europe in response to Floyd’s death was the EU’s Anti-Racism Action Plan 2020-2025.

“We need to talk about racism. And we must act. You can always change direction if you wish. I’m glad I live in a society that condemns racism. But we shouldn’t stop there. The motto of our European Union is “United in Diversity”. It is our job to keep these words and fulfill their meaning,” said EU President Ursula von der Leyen in June 2020.

Since then, the initiative has created national plans for EU countries to combat racism and racial discrimination. Incorporating this into EU legislation is a key step in continuing the fight against racism.

But that’s not all good news. While protests across Europe brought to the fore public condemnation of police brutality, legislation has since been introduced in the UK to increase the police’s ability to suppress acts of protest. Recently, these powers were seen in action when the police arrested people before the coronation of King Charles III in case they wanted to protest the event.

On a societal level, the BLM-led protests following Floyd’s death changed the cultural taboo on discussing racism. Why I Don’t Talk to White People About Race Anymore, a 2017 book by British author Reni Eddo-Lodge, became the UK’s No. 1 bestseller. Film and television have emphasized institutional and historical racism through programs such as David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History documentary series and Steve McQueen’s Small Ax anthology film.

It can be hard to quantify how much has changed since Floyd’s death – and what is certain is that change is still happening much more slowly than it should – but the long-term impact of George Floyd and the entire BLM movement has apparently taken the international conversation to a new level.

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