On May 25, America watched as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. It was an act so egregious even staunch supporters of American policing couldn’t look at the video and defend the actions. The man had knelt emotionless on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. It was brutal, and against what most Americans would see as legitimate use of force by a police officer.
The violent act not only ended George Floyd’s life, it opened the floodgates in America. In its wake, protests broke out across the country calling for an end to police brutality. In the streets, protesters were met with even more police brutality. Police shot rubber bullets, used tear gas and pepper spray indiscriminately, attacked journalists, and routinely endangered the lives of otherwise peaceful protesters. We witnessed protesters lose their eyes to rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, people shot in the face by “non-lethal” projectiles, hit by police batons and even cars. What we saw play out in front of news cameras during the protests was shocking to some, but for many it was expected. This is the violence police have long impacted on Americans of color and Americans in poor communities who are policed in ways wealthy white Americans simply are not.
While many across the country would like to believe the myth that this is just a problem of “a few bad apples,” America’s policing problem is far deeper than the sins of a few. It has reached a level where international bodies have felt compelled to respond. In the face of the violent police response to protests, multiple international human rights organizations issued atrocity alerts for the United States. On June 3, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) issued an atrocity alert noting that, “in addition to potentially violating the US Constitution, the overly violent response to peaceful protests by US security forces contravenes numerous international laws and standards that protect human rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of opinion and expression.” Crisis Group followed the next day with its alert, showing extreme concern for the framing of the discussion by U.S. leaders and highlighting, “ a growing inclination among some prominent elected and security officials to frame the civil unrest in the language of armed conflict.”