Faculty From UCLA Share Insight On Response To Killing Of George Floyd


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

George Floyd was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, when Chauvin kneeled on his neck as he pinned him to the ground. The week since his murder has been filled with people across the country and around the world coming together and mobilizing to protest the latest example of fatal police violence against an African American person. Read to see what some professors at University of California, Los Angeles have to say about what’s going on.



Since George Floyd’s murder over a week ago, there have been demonstrations and protests in over 75 cities in the country. Some of the demonstrations have been marked by physical confrontations with police, property destruction and looting of private businesses. 


Let’s take a look at some of the statements that faculty from the University of California Los Angeles have made throughout the week. 

Tanarive Due, award-winning author and lecturer in UCLA’s Department of African American Studies. Connects reactions to the killing and memories of police getting away with the killing of an African American man named Arthur McDuffie in Miami in 1980.


Every city’s new scream of pain sweeps my mind back to May 17, 1980 — the day my childhood ended. On that day the police officers charged with killing Arthur McDuffie were acquitted.

McDuffie was a 33-year-old black motorcyclist (an insurance salesman and former Marine M.P.) who had led police on a high-speed chase before he coasted to a stop at the freeway exchange. As many as 12 police officers swarmed him, full of rage. While McDuffie was handcuffed, they beat him so badly with heavy flashlights that the coroner said his skull looked like “a cracked egg.” The officers then damaged his motorcycle and crafted a lie, saying he had been injured in a crash. McDuffie died days later.

Arthur McDuffie might have died under the cloud of the police officers’ lie if not for Miami Herald reporter Edna Buchanan, who got a tip and investigated his death, exposing the conspiracy to hide his murder. After the exposé, several officers were tried for manslaughter—which, even as a child, didn’t seem like a powerful enough charge to me. Even so, an all-white jury in Tampa acquitted them. I felt stunned and shattered as I watched the news crawl silently across my television screen on a sleepy Saturday afternoon.

He didn’t matter to them, I thought. Our lives don’t matter.

It was almost too big for my mind to accept. My parents were civil rights activists, so I knew how bad things had been back in the 1960s from their stories of fire hoses and tear gas and jail cells and beatings. But 1980 was the first time I understood how Jim Crow was still hiding inside the criminal justice system. I was pledging allegiance to the same flag as my white classmates at school, but there was no such thing as “liberty and justice for all.” Although the Black Lives Matter movement would not be born until more than 30 years later, Arthur McDuffie was my first Black Lives Matter moment.

Kimberlé Crenshaw of UCLA School of Law was interviewed about racism, intersectionality, COVID-19 and the protests around the killing of George Floyd. 

We are now in the moment in which many people are grieving, having seen an African American man being killed. Deliberately, it seems. His suffering not being heard, his pleas for his life being disregarded, officers seemingly taking this as just another day at the office, snuffing out another life. The inhumanity of it, I think, is shocking to so many people, and at the same time, I struggle to hold the unfathomable dimension of this man’s life being taken, along with the thousands of people who are dying every day from decisions that have been made to prioritize the economy, to prioritize the comfort, to prioritize the preferences and the privileges of some over the lives and the well-being of others.
We are now in the moment in which many people are grieving, having seen an African American man being killed. Deliberately, it seems. His suffering not being heard, his pleas for his life being disregarded, officers seemingly taking this as just another day at the office, snuffing out another life. The inhumanity of it, I think, is shocking to so many people, and at the same time, I struggle to hold the unfathomable dimension of this man’s life being taken, along with the thousands of people who are dying every day from decisions that have been made to prioritize the economy, to prioritize the comfort, to prioritize the preferences and the privileges of some over the lives and the well-being of others.

Darnell Hunt, sociologist and dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, offers critical insight into the language being used to describe what’s happening.


On social media, users called the arson and looting “disgusting” and “reprehensible.” In response to a trail of vandalism across downtown Louisville, Kentucky, where EMT Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in March, Mayor Greg Fischer said the “violence and destruction is absolutely unacceptable.” President Donald Trump called the protesters in Minneapolis “thugs.”

“I’m 58 years old now. I don’t remember a year that there wasn’t half a dozen cases, spectacular cases of police violence. You could do a New York Times front page, just like you did of the COVID deaths, and easily get 100,000 names, beginning in 1960, of people who died,” said Robin Kelley, a professor of history at UCLA who studies social movements in the USA. “My wife asked me this question last night, ‘Do you think this is right?’ I said, ‘What other choice do people have?’”

Later in the article, the question of whether to describe the protests as “violent” comes up.

Kelley questions the term’s use when “violence” is defined as attacks against property, rather than against people.

For nearly nine minutes, white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for his life, gasping for air and calling for his mother. Most rioters set fires, sprayed graffiti and smashed vehicles.

Hunt is also quoted on language, specifically the use of the words “riot” and “looting.”

Language choices matter: The term “riot” is loaded, and it’s why many use “rebellion” instead, experts said. One suggests reckless violence. The other signifies political resistance to oppression.

“The term ‘riot’ tends to connote a senseless venting of frustration, of destroying your own community and all these other things that are counterproductive, as if there couldn’t be political value in urban unrest and forcing the system to examine itself,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences and a professor of sociology and African American studies at UCLA.

Hunt argued that the term “looting” minimizes the political implications of what people are doing when they rob stores.

During the L.A. riots in 1992, which erupted after four LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, there were scenes of people “looting” basic necessities, he said.

“You had a huge immigrant population that was barely getting by, barely surviving, and people were going to drugstores and ‘looting’ diapers, things to make ends meet in their families,” he said. “To minimize that as just, ‘Oh, people are just looting,’ completely robbed it of the political content and the political possibilities that people are trying to communicate by taking a risk and getting involved.”

Hunt has also given insight that explains why some protests may turn violent. He discusses the government’s role in escalating tensions through deployment of police forces and the National Guard. There are parallels between current events and previous protests.

Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences at UCLA, believes police in the U.S. “ramped up their aggressiveness” over the weekend.

“Deploying the National Guard, using rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray — these are a range of police tactics that can exacerbate an already tense situation.”

Later in the article, Hunt provided historical context for what’s happening specifically in Los Angeles and more across the country.

Prof Hunt has studied the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which were sparked after four white police officers were acquitted over the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.

He says there is “a long history of targeting, or selectivity,” in vandalism and looting. “In the L.A. uprisings, you’d often see ‘minority owned’ spray painted on minority businesses, so that people would bypass those.”

However, both Prof Stott and Prof Hunt caution that looting is complicated — especially as lots of people with different motivations take part, including people in poverty or organized criminals.

The idea that violent protests are targeted and meaningful events to those taking part can also explain why looting occurs in some protests, but not others.

...

Ultimately, however, riots can be a symptom of deep-seated tensions and complicated issues that don’t have an easy solution.

Prof Hunt says this week’s U.S. riots are the most serious ones since 1968 — after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

“You can’t think about police brutality, and the profiling of certain communities, without thinking about the inequalities that exist in society and fuel those concerns,” he says.“The George Floyd case was not the cause — it’s more like the straw that broke the camel’s back. You could argue even the police killings are symptoms — the underlying cause is white supremacy, racism and things the U.S. has not fundamentally dealt with.”

Chancellor Gene Block and the presidents of the undergraduate and graduate student associations, joined together to send a message expressing collective anger, sadness and solidarity.

We must never let that indifference to human suffering become our own. We must never deaden our hearts to the pain of others. Our fundamental values demand that we care.

At UCLA, we believe deeply that equity, respect and justice are central to the character of our institution, to the health of our democracy and to the well-being of our world. Still, we recognize that UCLA also can and must do better. As campus leaders, we recommit ourselves to ensuring that our policies and actions value the lives, safety and dignity of every Bruin.




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