United States: What does justice for George Floyd mean for free speech?

United States: What does justice for George Floyd mean for free speech? - Civic Space

The jury in Minnesota served a small measure of justice and accountability on 20 April when it found Derek Chauvin guilty on all three charges against him for the murder of George Floyd. The verdict sends a message to the people of the United States, but also to the wider world. It signals hope, and an opportunity for profound change: an overhaul of American society by uprooting what has contaminated it for decades: endemic racism, divisiveness, assumptions of entitlement and superiority, and unequal access to justice.

“It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism,” President Joe Biden said about the judgment, adding that it was “a stain” on the “nation’s soul”.

The ruling is a clear reminder of the vital role free speech plays in democracy, for it is through it that the truth is told.

“The guilty verdict is the first step down a path that must lead to the full realisation of freedom of expression for Black Americans,” said Quinn McKew, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. ” While some leaders have embraced anti-racist reforms in the wake of the Black Live Matter protests last summer, others have gone the opposite direction. Legislation to cut off the ability of people to protest and to vote, the most fundamental aspects of expression, are advancing across the US. The fight will continue for full justice.”

When Chauvin, who served in the Minneapolis police force, brutally killed George Floyd in Minneapolis during an arrest in May 2020, it prompted protests throughout the US, but also around the world. The landmark decision in America on April 20 must mark the beginning of manifest changes in policing in the US, but also in so many parts of US society and the structures and institutions that uphold it, ensuring they are founded on justice, transparency, accountability and human rights.

Black voices must be heard

As ARTICLE 19 outlined in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, “only when we stop and listen, when people are heard, do we begin to break down the barriers of inequality and truly work towards a world where Black Lives Matter”. Not only was George Floyd’s clear message “I can’t breathe” ignored in the moment, but the people who witnessed his brutal attack were powerless to make their voices heard too.

During the coronavirus crisis, deaths and serious illness among America’s black population have been disproportionately higher than those among the white population. Black Americans are overall less well served by the US healthcare system, and have fewer avenues to secure adequate insurance and face dismissive care when they do get it. These realities are also part of the silence, the failure in America to ensure freedoms are afforded to all.

Protest and Voting

In the weeks and months since the horrific tragedy of George Floyd’s murder, the power of protest has been paramount, and that has been true in so many countries around the world. In the US, authorities in a number of cities used violence against protesters, and against journalists covering the protests.

As Covid-19 ravaged communities, restrictions on protest to control the disease were often exploited and abused by authorities — in the US, but also in the United Kingdom, in India, in Kenya and elsewhere.

In the US, measures that would kill the right to protest are advancing, such as the recently-adopted legislation in Florida, which makes it a felony to even be present in a protest if one violent act occurs. Prejudicial legislation to restrict minority voting has been proposed or passed by States led by Republicans who bought into the lies about the Presidential election being “stolen”.

ARTICLE 19 again emphasises the vital importance of protecting free speech and protest around the globe. Journalists must be better protected. People must be allowed to protest. A resilient, robust media is vital to human rights and democracy. And the democratic right to make one’s voice heard must be upheld.


Also read:

US: We must elevate black voices to break down racial inequality