In the weeks since police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, nonstop protests across the U.S. have called out systemic racism and police brutality — and have already given rise to significant reckonings and policy changes in cities and companies nationwide.
Floyd, who was Black, was killed on May 25 when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” The demonstrations the following night in Minneapolis soon spread across the country and the world, as people took to the streets to demand justice for Black victims of police violence and an end to the status quo of racism and white supremacy.
Last week, former President Barack Obama compared the recent protests to those in the late 1960s civil rights era, calling this moment a “sea change,” adding that there’d been “as much honest conversation in this country on the topic of race in the past week as has taken place in my living memory.” Civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) echoed the sentiment, praising the racial diversity of today’s protests, which have been largely led by young Black people, saying these would “help redeem the soul of America.”
And so far, the Black Lives Matter protests — which built off years of work by BLM activists since 2013, in the streets, in halls of government and educating the public — have spurred some significant changes.
From cities redirecting funding from police departments, to Confederate monuments coming down in droves, here are some of the steps toward racial justice and ending police brutality that we’ve seen in just 16 days since protests began:
Police are being held accountable.
After four days of protest, officer Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck as he died, was charged with third-degree murder. Following further protests and calls for more severe charges, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison later elevated the charge to second-degree murder and charged the three other officers involved with aiding and abetting.
Last week, six police officers in Atlanta were charged, and two of them fired, after a video went viral showing cops using a stun gun and dragging two young Black students, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, from a car during protests.
An officer in Brooklyn, New York, was charged with shoving a protester, who was hospitalized with a concussion. Two officers in Buffalo were charged with shoving a 75-year-old protester whose head hit the ground and began bleeding and who’s in serious condition at a hospital. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a package of police reform laws, including banning chokeholds by officers and repealing 50-a, a law that shielded police disciplinary records from the public.
The police chief in Louisville, Kentucky, was fired and two officers were placed on administrative leave after David McAtee, a Black chef, was shot and killed when officers responded to a large gathering after a curfew, which had been set up in response to anti-racism protests. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said officers “returned fire” after being shot at. An investigation is underway. The Louisville City Council unanimously passed Breonna’s Law banning no-knock search warrants after the killing of emergency room technician Breonna Taylor in March.
The Miami police department banned officers from using a “carotid restraint,” known as a chokehold.
San Francisco city supervisors introduced a resolution to prevent the police department from hiring officers with records of serious misconduct. District Attorney Chesa Boudin also opened a criminal investigation to identify a police officer who shoved a Black Lives Matter protester.
Cities are defunding police.
In Minneapolis, a veto-proof majority of city council members pledged earlier this week to “begin the process of ending” the city’s police department, seeking to instead invest in a “new transformative model for cultivating safety.” What such a model will look like in the city remains to be determined.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a proposal to cut the police department’s budget and shift the money to programs to help “communities of color.” The mayor said the exact amount will be determined with the city council as part of the budget process.
In Los Angeles, the city council introduced a proposal to redirect at least $100 million to $150 million from the LAPD budget to disadvantaged communities and communities of color. The mayor expressed support and pledged additional funds to support the Black community.
In San Francisco, city supervisors and the mayor together said they were committing to redirect part of the police department’s budget to serve the Black community. The amount has not yet been determined.
In Austin, Texas, city council voted to reduce the use of less-lethal force, including tear gas, and reduced funding for new police department hires.
Schools are cutting ties with police.
In Minneapolis, the city’s public school board voted last week to cut ties with the police department — as did the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Parks Department.
In Portland, Oregon, the public school system’s superintendent said he was “discontinuing” its use of police officers in schools.
In Oakland, California, school district board members introduced a resolution this week to close the public school system’s police department, which will be voted on later this month.
Monuments to racists are being toppled.
In the past two weeks, protesters have graffitied and toppled monuments of Confederate leaders and others with racist histories across the country, including in Birmingham, Alabama; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy. On Wednesday alone, demonstrators removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond and of Christopher Columbus outside the Minnesota state Capitol.
Local leaders have backed efforts to remove statues in some cities and states.
Such moves have not been limited to the U.S.: In Bristol in the United Kingdom, protesters tore down the statue of a slave trader and then rolled it into a river.
On Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, called for “immediately” removing 11 Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
The tech industry is facing a reckoning.
Facebook, a company notorious for its inadequate oversight on false information or dangerous messaging spreading on its platform, is reviewing the policies that allowed President Donald Trump’s inflammatory “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post to stay up. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has long been unwilling to budge on such issues, said he would reevaluate the policy after outraged employees staged a virtual walkout.
Reacting to the same violence-inciting language, Twitter put a warning label on one of Trump’s tweets for the first time. The warning, which obscured Trump’s tweet unless users clicked through, said the remarks “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence” and the company had determined it “may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
Snapchat announced it will no longer feature Trump’s account on its “Discover” page, saying it can’t promote accounts “linked to people who incite racial violence,” whether they post those comments on the Snapchat platform or elsewhere.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian announced he’s stepping down from the company’s board so that his seat could potentially be filled with a Black candidate. “There are too many white faces around the table,” he said.
Amazon is implementing a year-long moratorium on law enforcement’s use of “Rekognition,” the company’s facial recognition technology, after years of pitching the product to police departments. Law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology can be abused and lead to mistaken identifications, critics say, and Congress has yet to implement regulations on its use.
Similarly, IBM is no longer offering facial recognition technology and vowed to oppose any use of such software by police forces for mass surveillance or racial profiling. Microsoft followed suit and said it will not sell facial recognition technology to the police.
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Juneteenth will be a company holiday. The day, June 19, commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.
America’s sports leagues are facing a reckoning.
In a stunning vindication for football players who knelt during the national anthem, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell confessed the league was wrong to try to stop their peaceful police brutality protests. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” Goodell said.
Following the NFL, the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted to repeal an official policy requiring players to stand during the national anthem. “Black Lives Matter. We can do more and we will,” the board said.
NASCAR announced that it would ban the display of the Confederate flag at all its events and properties. The hate symbol is a near-ubiquitous sight at events held by NASCAR, which has a predominately white fan base and whose officials are steadfast Trump supporters.
Major American companies are facing a reckoning.
After hundreds of Adidas workers walked off the job to protest their employer’s lack of support for Black employees, the athletic company committed to fill a minimum of 30% of new positions with Black or Latinx people.
Like Twitter and Square, Nike announced it will recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday.
Walmart announced it would stop placing “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases in any of its stores. The practice has long been criticized as implying that the customer base for those products, which is largely Black, is more likely to shoplift.
The CEO and founder of The Wing, a women-centered co-working space, stepped down as dozens of employees staged a digital walkout, saying the company “doesn’t practice the intersectional feminism it preaches.”
News media is facing a reckoning.
The New York Times’ editorial page editor James Bennet resigned after widespread backlash to an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that advocated for military action against anti-racism protesters.
On Monday, Bon Appétit magazine’s editor-in-chief stepped down after a photo of him wearing brownface resurfaced and staffers of color publicly criticized the company’s treatment of people of color. Two days later, the magazine apologized for being “too white” and promised changes.
After mounting requests from staff to improve diversity, the Los Angeles Times editor reportedly committed to hiring Black reporters as the next to come on board in the Metro section.
Refinery 29 editor-in-chief Christene Barberich resigned after many former staff members, including several Black employees, came forward to speak about racism they experienced working at the website.
Entertainment is facing a reckoning.
Paramount Network canceled “Cops,” one of the longest-running shows on TV that embeds camera crews with officers as they pursue and arrest suspects, sometimes in humiliating fashions. Since the show started in 1989, critics have pointed out that it’s racially skewed to show more Black arrests and that cops on the show sometimes coerce people they arrest into signing release forms to appear on the show.
A&E canceled “Live PD,” one of the highest-rated shows on cable. Similarly to “Cops,” the show followed real officers and offered a one-sided look at policing from the perspective of law enforcement.
Bravo TV fired two cast members from “Vanderpump Rules,” one of its highest-rated shows, after it came to light that two longtime stars of the reality show, Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute, had falsely reported a Black guest star on the show to the police. Bravo also fired two of the show’s other cast members who were exposed for racist tweets several months ago.
The CW network fired Hartley Sawyer, one of the stars of “The Flash,” after he was exposed for writing racist and misogynistic tweets.
The Grammys music awards announced plans to rebrand its “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category. The term “urban” has been criticized as an outdated and stereotyped way to categorize music produced by Black artists.
Country music band Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A, apologizing to fans for the ties its name had to the Civil War and slavery.
Lifetime canceled an upcoming reality show with “Dance Moms” star Abby Lee Miller after she was accused of making a racist statement to one of the young girls on her show.
Public opinion has shifted.
Americans support the anti-racism protests by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, a HuffPost/YouGov poll found last week, with most viewing Floyd’s death as part of a pattern in police treatment of Black men ― reflecting a shift in public opinion about racial discrimination in policing.
American voters’ support for Black Lives Matter increased nearly as much in the last two weeks as it had in the previous two years, reported The New York Times, using data from an online survey from the Democratic firm Civiqs.
The percentage of Americans that approve of police fell by 10 points over a week, with overall favorability for law enforcement falling from 66% to 56% per surveys from the weeks ending May 27 and June 3, from the Democracy Fund and University of California Los Angeles.
A poll from Monmouth University found that most Americans say police are more likely to use excessive force on Black people — with 57% agreeing in a poll this month, compared to just 34% in a poll of registered voters in 2016.
For activists out on the streets today and the movement for Black lives and racial justice more broadly, the work is far from over. Much of these moves represent incremental change or simple promises of change, and fall far short of what activists are calling for. For instance, while over a dozen cities are considering reducing police budgets, Minneapolis’ city council is still the only one to go so far as to announce it will “dismantle” its police force, and it still has to develop a plan for what “transformative public safety” model will take its place.
But the changes are significant, part of a wave of new steps signaling that people are no longer tolerating the status quo on racial injustice, and once again showing that massive protests are an effective tool to galvanize the public’s collective voice to put pressure on those in power to make change.