George Floyd
People raise their fists as they march during an event in remembrance of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 23, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

It is a year since the name of George Floyd entered our collective consciousness. And while his life in Florida and Minnesota over the course of four decades was largely without notice, it was the nature of his death on a Minneapolis street corner that has changed utterly now race relations in that city, across the United States and yes, far beyond those borders and into most corners of the world.

For more than nine minutes, Floyd was pinning to the ground as Officer Derek Chauvin placed his neck on the slowly suffocating man who uttered those immoral words “I can’t breathe” time and time again. Chauvin is awaiting sentencing for the murder of Floyd. That the entire incident was captured on a mobile phone recording has made Floyd a household name.

Were it not, would his murder be explained as just another death of a black man at the hands of police officers in the US?

Effect on race relations

Floyd’s death has an immediate effect on race relations in America and across the world. Black Lives Matter protests have been reinvigorated by his murder, bringing the issue of racial injustice and police lethality to the fore — and pricking our collective conscience that not all are treated equally by society, before the law, or indeed in our daily actions and words.

Almost since its founding, America has struggled with race relations and the equality of all. Whether it be through slavery, the Civil War, the push for equality, race relations and the Civil Rights Act, black people has long sought equality and justice.

You are 10 times more likely to be stopped by police in the US if your skin is black, and the rate of incarceration for people of colour are double those for other ethnicities. And, sadly, too many black people die at the hands of police when lethal force is deployed, legally or otherwise.

Floyd’s death has changed America. His passing marked a watermark in society, and it began a debate on how we see each other.

If there is a positive from this tragic crime, it is that there can now be no going back. Legislators must once and for all tackle systemic injustices and resolve to place all on an equal footing in the eyes and hands of the law. But there is much work to be done.

We cannot undo the injustices of centuries in 12 months. We must ensure his death marked the beginning of the end — and a new beginning.