Protests against police brutality and racism triggered by the police killing of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago continued over the weekend in towns and cities across the world — and even took on new momentum in some areas in response to the deaths of two more black men.
The continuation of widespread public demonstrations suggests the energy behind grassroots activists’ demands for racial justice and societal change remains high amid dramatic shifts in public opinion toward a broadly embraced and more pronounced rejection of racism in American life.
In Atlanta, hundreds of protesters marched, blocked a highway and set fire to a Wendy’s restaurant on Saturday after police shot and killed 27-year-old black man Rayshard Brooks by the restaurant’s drive-through the previous night. On Saturday, in response to protests and demands from criminal justice advocates, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned. The police officer who killed Brooks has been fired, and a second officer involved in the incident has been placed on administrative duty.
In Palmdale, California, protesters demanded answers from authorities over the death of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man who was discovered dead hanging from a tree in a park on Wednesday morning. The local sheriff’s department has said initial results from a coroner’s investigation indicate suicide, but a full autopsy has not yet been released. Fuller’s friends and family have pushed back against the suggestion the young man’s death was from suicide — as have many activists, like the protester who told LAist, “If you can suggest suicide, I can suggest a lynching.”
In Philadelphia, hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets for a 15th consecutive day. Many protesters called for defunding the police, and there was a minor stand-off with rifle-carrying counter-protesters around a statue of Christopher Columbus. The counter-protesters claimed they were defending the statue from being pulled down — like those of slaveholders and members of the Confederacy, Columbus statues have been destroyed by protesters across the US. Saturday, the standoff ended peacefully, with no shots fired, and the statue remaining on its pedestal.
In New Orleans, however, protesters successfully tore down a bust of slave owner John McDonogh, and threw the remains of the monument into the Mississippi River.
In Clemson, South Carolina, members of the Clemson University football team led a march against police brutality and racism the day after university trustees voted to rename its honors college, which had been named after John C. Calhoun, a former vice president and a prominent defender of slavery in the years before the American Civil War.
Several protests swept Chicago, where demonstrators chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” In Washington, DC, protesters organized a block party outside DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s home and called for her to defund the police. In Minneapolis, protesters marched toward police headquarters and gathered near the city’s NFL stadium, chanting and making suggestions for how the city council might accomplish its pledge of restructuring the city’s police force.
International protests in solidarity with US demonstrations — and seeking to drive conversations and changes with regard to their own countries’ histories of racism — took place around the world, including in the United Kingdom, France, and New Zealand. In Paris, police intervened to prevent a clash between anti-racist protesters and far-right activists carrying a banner decrying “anti-white racism.”
The protests are reflecting — and propelling — changing attitudes
Pollsters say the protests triggered by the death of George Floyd have had a tremendous impact on public opinion.
Data from Civiqs, an online research firm, showed that support for the Black Lives Matter movement surged in the first two weeks of protests, increasing nearly as much as it had risen over the past two years.
As Vox’s Anna North has reported, experts are most struck by the change in opinions and activist participation among white Americans:
The change is coming “at a speed that I don’t think we’ve seen before in American politics,” said Dorian Warren, president of Community Change, a nonprofit that works with grassroots groups in low-income communities around the county.
And a lot of the shift is coming from white people. Looking at changes in polling data over time, “most black respondents in 2014 and now had pretty progressive views,” Duncan Gans, an analyst at the polling firm PerryUndem, told Vox. “Most of the change was among white respondents.”
For example, in 2016, 77 percent of black Americans said that police were more likely to use force on black people. That jumped to 87 percent this year. But among white Americans, the change was much greater, from just 25 percent in 2016 to 49 percent in 2020.
It’s not just polling. White people are also engaging in protests and other activism in ways they haven’t always in the past, many say. Organizers on the ground are pleasantly surprised by the sustained outpouring of support from people of all races, including people getting in touch for the first time asking how they can help, Warren said. “In some ways we’re seeing the vibrant renewal of civic engagement in our democracy.”
It’s unclear how long the protests will continue or when they may lose their potency in terms of shaping public opinion and inspiring new modes of anti-racist action. But for now there’s no denying that they matter — and that they have already led to some significant changes in opinion, and in proposed policy.