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One year after George Floyd’s murder: ‘Protest matters,’ professor says

While more than 200 police departments across the country have pledged to overhaul use-of-force policies following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law professor Sheila Bedi says, at the same time, many police departments — even those that pledged reform — used unlawful violence and arrests against those who took to the streets last summer in protest. “More work must be done,” Bedi says.

May 25 marks one year since George Floyd’s murder, and Northwestern political science professor Alvin Tillery says, “One year later, we know that protest matters.”

Professors Bedi and Tillery are available for comment.

Sheila Bedi is a clinical professor of law and director of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic, a Northwestern Law clinic that provides students with opportunities to work within social justice movements on legal and policy strategies aimed at redressing over-policing and mass imprisonment. Bedi litigates civil rights claims on behalf of people who have endured police violence and abusive prison conditions. She can be reached at sheila.bedi@law.northwestern.edu or by contacting Hilary Hurd Anyaso.

Quote from Professor Bedi
“Since the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the summer of 2020 racial justice uprisings, many local elected officials embraced the demands of the movement for Black lives — creating the potential for historic, transformational change. Over 200 police departments across each region of the U.S. have pledged to overhaul use of force policies. Yet, at the same time, many police departments — even those that pledged reform — used unlawful violence and arrests against those who took to the streets last summer. 

“The fact that so many police departments responded to the uprisings with racist police violence, demonstrates that justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor requires far more than a policy fix. Across the country, organizers and activists successfully convinced local governments to divest over $840 million from policing and invest $160 million in community-based, non-carceral safety initiatives. More work must be done. But those who put their bodies on the line last summer and took to the streets to demand real change mainstreamed the imperative to defund the police, to shift resources away from policing and into the communities most affected by over-policing. This fact — and the potential of the defund movement to make more progress in the future — should give tremendous hope to those who care about the future of Black and brown communities.”  

Alvin Tillery is an associate professor of political science and director of the University’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy (CSDD). His research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research in American politics focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics and media and politics. He can be reached at alvin.tillery@northwestern.edu.

Quote from Professor Tillery
“The killing of George Floyd reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement and ushered in a national dialogue about systemic racism and racial inequality in America. One year later, we know that protest matters. The commitment of the multi-generational, multi-racial crowds that took to the streets in cities and towns all across America provided the pressure that kept our nation focused on winning justice for George Floyd. Moreover, the acumen and skill of Black activists — particularly women — in Georgia, helped translate the Black Lives Matter message into a winning coalition between suburban white voters and voters of color in Georgia that flipped both the presidential and Senate races to the Democrats in 2020. 

“At the same time, we have learned that there remain powerful forces in America that are arrayed against racial justice for Black Americans. Trump’s decision to smear the Black Lives Matter movement as violent has given new life to the same old racist tropes that lead to the problems of hyper-policing and police brutality in the first place. This smear has become one of the main talking points of Republican politicians as they attempt to deflect from their role in creating the context for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Ultimately, the success of the racial justice movement that grew up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder will depend on how successful Democratic congressional leaders will be in managing and working around the biases of their caucus members.”