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A memorial for George Floyd in South Minneapolis.
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3 Black Activists Discuss What's Changed — and What Hasn't — 1 Year Since George Floyd's Death

By Anastasia Moloney

May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — In the year since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, people worldwide took to the streets to protest against racism amid renewed calls for reforms in US law enforcement.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd in April, a milestone in the fraught racial history of the United States and a rebuke of law enforcement's treatment of Black Americans.

But what tangible change has happened to address racial inequality in the United States since Floyd's murder?

The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked three Black Americans of different generations to reflect on what has changed in the year since Floyd's murder.

We spoke to Charles Person, 78, a leading civil rights activist who as a teenager in 1961 joined the original 13 Freedom Riders on a journey to Jackson, Mississippi, to occupy segregated waiting areas.

Armonee Jackson, a 24-year-old youth activist with the NAACP, the largest US civil rights organization, who led a protest for the first time in Phoenix, Arizona, following the death of Floyd and has since participated in other race protests.

Chris Shelton, 49, who took part in a protest for the first time in Indiana, Indianapolis, following the death of Floyd.

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Has George Floyd's murder brought about real change?

JACKSON: The biggest thing that has changed in the past year is that we, the Black community, we have gained more allies and comrades in this fight for equality and justice.

There are more individuals outside of our community that are working effortlessly to advocate for our community and police accountability.

A big community is definitely the white community. There are individuals that since George Floyd's murder that can actually finally — not truly understand — what we are talking about because they are not going through it, but they now see what we are talking about ... inequality and racial justice here in the United States.

PERSON: When we demonstrated in the 1960s, we nowhere near had the numbers and diversity that you see demonstrating these days. Now there are cellphone videos with evidence — you can't deny that.

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What hasn't changed since George Floyd's murder?

JACKSON: We as a Black community are still being targeted in the same way that we were before. Black lives are still being taken every day. Countless murders have happened at the hands of police officers within our community since George Floyd's murder.

And police accountability is not there. When it comes to police reform and accountability — and looking at policing as a whole and what it entails — none of that has changed.

SHELTON: It seems like it was all about symbolism and not about substance. It's just really disappointing that here we are a year later and we are having the exact same problem, exact same issues when it comes to law enforcement and policing and violence against citizens. We are just stuck at square one.

Police brutality is still happening and I don't think that police departments are engaged in trying to do something about any type of reform.

We all get caught up in some catchphrase like "defund the police" ... thinking communities just want to abolish police law enforcement and public safety. Yet that's the furthest from the truth. We just want it to work better and that the police are supposed to work for our citizens.

PERSON: I don't see a lot of changes. A lot of laws have been enacted but nothing has solved the national problem of racism and inequality. It's still communities working on their own. Everybody is doing everything separately. We are looking for a holistic solution.

I'm trying to get a training syllabus and curriculum to be used nationwide in schools and police institutions for law enforcement, demonstrators, and young people.

It's about what can we do so that we can demonstrate peacefully and non-violently and how demonstrators and young people can work with the police when any trouble starts during protests.

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How important is the Biden administration in bringing about change?

PERSON: It is difficult for Biden to get anything through the Senate. He could use more executive orders to get sweeping changes.

JACKSON: I am hoping that we as a community don't rely so much on the Biden administration for change to happen as we keep our focus on grassroots organizations that are actually doing the work and fighting for equality and justice.

At the end of the day, it's the young people, it's those who are at the front line, those that are in those spaces making it happen that really help to create change and the community coming together as a collective unit. That's really where the change is going to come.

Not focusing so much on the Biden administration for that change but seeing what we can do in our own capacity to enact that change.

SHELTON: People just assumed that when President Biden got into office that everything would just be magically fixed and cured and it's been proven time and time again that it's not that way.

It doesn't matter who's in power for me. People seem to forget that the whole Black Lives Matter Movement started in 2013 under the Obama administration and it wasn't addressed then.

It needs to be a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-class coalition moving forward in order for us to get the things that we want done.

Instead of looking to powerful Washington, I look to engage in a conversation with people, because it's going to take people power in order for us to bridge this gap and make the road for a promising future. It's going to have to come from us.      

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; editing by Lin Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)