Since the death of George Floyd, a black man killed while under arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020, a wave of protests has rocked a number of cities in America and beyond. In Paris, where thousands of people attended a protest on June 6, George Floyd’s death has reignited the debate on police violence in France. According to French researcher Simon Grivet, a United States historian at Lille University, these demonstrations should be considered within their historical and activist context.
France-Amérique: How would you analyze the demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd?
Simon Grivet: They are surprising, astonishing even. When everything started, I thought it would be much like other Black Lives Matter protests from previous years — demonstrations mainly comprised of African-Americans, a few cases of violence, with everything subsiding after a few days. I was surprised by the scale of the protests, and especially by their diversity. We have seen that this goes beyond the Black Lives Matter movement; it is deeper and more powerful. The protestors are young, but not exclusively. They are white, black, and Hispanic. Demonstrations have been held in major cities, but also in small- and medium-sized cities such as Boise in Idaho, and even in Texas. This isn’t going away.
Why are these protests happening now?
The general shock after seeing the images is a major factor. No other interpretation is possible; George Floyd’s death was a police killing filmed from several angles and witnessed by the public. The power of these images is enhanced by the long series of police violence captured on camera since the death of Michael Brown, and young, unarmed black man killed by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, in summer 2014. A new case of police misconduct is discovered every two or three days in the United States, which drives the protests. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people are killed every year by the police in the U.S., and American society is extremely violent with more than 30,000 firearm deaths annually. What’s more, 2020 is an election year. Three-and-a-half years of Trump have sparked a profound political awakening on both the left and the right. There is a powerful energy of protest and reform. This movement is coming to the fore at a time of other major crises in the form of the pandemic and a social and economic crisis. I don’t think these demonstrations are going to disappear.
The uprising has particularly resonated in France — especially in Paris — with demonstrations for Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man who died after being arrested in 2016. Can you explain this parallel?
Until this year, the Black Lives Matter was location-specific. The internationalization of protests against police violence is an important new development that has not been seen since the 1960s and 1970s. There is an expression of solidarity in France, Germany, and the U.K., and we are discovering that similar cases have occurred elsewhere. Such events were often seen by Europeans as essentially “American” problems. But today, these countries are being forced to face their own contradictions. Some 20,000 people gathered to protest the death of Adama Traoré and demand change in front of the Paris courthouse in early June. In an opinion piece published in Le Monde, historian Pap Ndiaye spoke of the “possibility of a new coalition between black and white liberals.” […]
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