It’s hard to believe that only a year has passed since a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, suffocating him to death as onlookers pleaded for mercy.

The cellphone videos of Floyd’s murder and the outraged demonstrations they sparked – protests that involved millions of people in every state from coast to coast – are so deeply embedded in our understanding of how race works in America that it doesn’t feel like a current event. May 25, 2020, belongs to history because something changed that day.

It was a date when many white Americans were forced to see that Black people are not policed the same way they are. That the disproportionate number of Black men killed by police, year after year, can’t be written off as a series of isolated incidents. That the crowds chanted “Black Lives Matter” because, for too long, white America has behaved as if they don’t.

We heard the message from a new generation, starting with 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who bravely recorded the agonizing last nine minutes of Floyd’s life. The Minneapolis Police Department put out a misleading news release that day, headlined “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction,” and that would have been the story if not for Frazier’s video.

The recording was also a key piece of evidence leading to the conviction on murder and manslaughter charges of former police Officer Derek Chauvin. It was a rare example of accountability that would be impossible to imagine if Frazier had not been there.

Young people also came out and filled the streets, adding urgency to protests that had been going on for years. A protester in their mid-20s had not been born when four Los Angeles police officers were caught on video brutally clubbing Rodney King, or when the officers were cleared of all charges by an all-white jury.

They were in middle school when George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman in Florida, killed Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager who had just gone out to buy some candy. Zimmerman, too, was acquitted. And they were in high school when Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis by an officer who was also cleared of all charges. They were not willing to accept another killing without accountability.

Meanwhile, the older generation is still not rising to the political moment.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House, but is mired in the Senate, as bipartisan negotiators try to work out a deal.

The House bill would outlaw certain tactics like chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It would create a database of police misconduct that would make it harder for offending officers to move from department to department. And it would make it easier to sue officers if they violate someone’s civil rights.

It’s time for Congress to act with the same urgency that young demonstrators showed last year. The country changed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, and the laws ought to change, too.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.