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CityLab University: A Timeline of U.S. Police Protests
Washington, DC, USA
Media, Cities, Urban Design, Planning
Date Published: 
Social Justice, Protest, Black Lives Matter, Geoge Floyd, Rodney King, Protest
Tapestry Statistics:
2020-06-10 17:54:13
2020-06-10 17:56:41
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Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
The latest protests against police violence toward African Americans didn’t appear out of nowhere. They’re rooted in generations of injustice and systemic racism.

When a white police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck during an arrest on May 25, eventually killing him, the incident followed a longstanding pattern of unchecked police brutality toward African Americans. The civil unrest that has erupted in city after city is not unlike the protests that came after other high-profile police killings of African Americans such as Tamir Rice and Michael Brown in 2014, Freddie Gray in 2015, and Philando Castile in 2016 — as well as the brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991. The following year, 1992, marked a turning point in calls for police reform, triggered by violent riots that came after the acquittal of the Los Angeles policemen responsible for severely injuring King.

In the years since, however, change has been incremental. And as with the most recent demonstrations that began on May 26 in Minneapolis, past peaceful protests often gave rise to violence as police responded with brute force.

“What protests have been effective in doing is raising the public consciousness about the level of public violence that communities experience,” said Marcia Chatelain, a professor of African American history at Georgetown University​​​​​​. “They have also exposed the amount of money that has been spent on police forces and weapons, and have helped expose the level of brutality.”

The 1960s marked the beginning of an increased militarization of police forces, according to Chatelain. The U.S. government’s War on Drugs campaign was also used as a justification for increased policing, as was terrorism after the attacks of 9/11, she said. But the widespread use of mobile-phone cameras and social media now allows the public to witness more abuses firsthand.

The following is a timeline of major protests in response to police brutality, especially instances where officers remained in their jobs or weren’t held accountable for violent or fatal arrests. These demonstrations are part of a broader movement against systemic racism in America, and don’t include the killings of people such as Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin by fellow civilians. Arbery was chased and shot in February by an armed white resident in Atlanta, and Martin was shot by neighborhood watcher George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida back in 2012.

This list also doesn’t encompass many others who were killed by police or while in police custody, such as Sandra Bland, whose death in jail was ruled a suicide after she was pulled over by an officer in Texas, in 2015. That officer was later put on leave, but never charged, prompting renewed calls for her case to be reopened amid the protests for Floyd.

Organization Mentioned:
Georgetown University
Washington, DC, USA
Higher Education, Research