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English Language Institute

Justice for George and Black Lives Matter: What does it all mean?

On Tuesday, hundreds of mourners paid their respects to the 46-year-old father, whose death sparked a nationwide movement against police brutality and systemic racism

George Floyd grew up in Houston, Texas, was a high school football star, and was reportedly the first among his siblings to go to college.  He eventually moved to Minneapolis for a fresh start where three weeks ago a white police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest causing his death. 

This type of excessive force and police brutality has provoked weeks of protests and demonstrations.  Many are speaking out to say justice for George requires racial justice in America.

How did we get here?  Are you ready?  This is a brief version of a long history.

atlantic slave tradeWe have to go back over 400 years when African men, women and children were brought to the United States through an active slave trade between African and European nations, and European colonies.

Slavery was legally enforced in the Unites States through a series of Supreme Court decisions, most notably the Dred Scott case in 1857 that made slavery acceptable and moral.  It introduced formally in the law that blacks were inferior to whites and created a narrative of racial difference. 

Slavery persisted through the American Civil War until 1865 from which three Constitutional Amendments were enacted -- the 13th Amendment prohibits slavery; the 14th Amendment gives citizens rights specifically equal protection; and the 15th Amendment grants the right to vote. 

rural family But even with these protections, violence and exploitation of blacks persisted through terror and lynching in the South.  The Great Migration (1915-1970) is one of the largest movements of people in history and changed the face of America.  Over 6 million blacks moved from rural Southern states to the urban Northeast, Midwest and West to escape racial violence, segregation and poor economic conditions.

The legal separation of whites and blacks known as segregation continued in the South through the 1960s.  The Civil Rights Movement opposed racial violence, segregation, and discrimination and culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

civil rights act The Act helped to end legal discrimination but racial bias persists today.  Today people of color are disproportionately arrested, convicted of crimes, and sent to prison.  Mass incarceration has quadrupled since the 1980s and African Americans are six times more likely to be sent to prison for the same crime as a white man.  In addition, police violence is so epidemic that civil rights demonstrations have shut down U.S. cities as thousands of people march to protest police brutality.  This institutional inequality and cruelty has launched another movement called Black Lives Matter.

What is the history of Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter protestor holding signBlack Lives Matter started in 2013 after the killing of another black man, Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of the white gunman, George Zimmerman.  Anger at the injustice erupted and from it was borne a human rights organization that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people.  They speak out against police brutality and racial profiling and inequality in the U.S criminal justice system and social structures.  They are front and center in the latest demonstration of inequality after a series of recent deaths caused by police.

Is anything changing?  Will there be justice for George?

Well, there is hope.  Protesters have compelled the country and Congress to hear them.  On Monday, House Democrats unveiled new legislation that, if passed, would bring widespread reforms to policing in the United States.

Justice for GeorgeThe Justice in Policing Act of 2020 has more than 200 Congressional sponsors.  Among the measures the bill calls for include prohibiting the use of chokeholds, banning no-knock warrants in narcotics-related cases and establishing a national registry to track misconduct by law enforcement.  That is a start but we have a long way to go before this legislation becomes law and before the law is enforced.

What can I do as an international student?

Support Black-owned business!  Check out some black-owned fashion companies, beauty brands, and more, that you can support with your wallet.

Educate yourself!  Read books (So You Want to Talk About Race, How to Be an Antiracist), watch movies (13th, I am not your Negro, The Help), listen to podcasts (STAMPED – highlights stories of Black African/Americans studying in other countries)

Take a class!  Pace University’s English Language Institute offers a theme-based Integrated Skills 6-week self-paced course.  Students are discussing these topics NOW

Sign a Petition!  Justice for George petition

Want more ideas?  Here are 75 more ideas you can do for Racial Justice

Want to read more? International students react to recent events

Write a Poem! See a friend’s poem below:

Out in the Open by Gail Gazes

The rains came and washed away
The blood on the sidewalk
The spit on the street
The broken glass beneath my feet.

Everything is out in the open
No room for arrogance and pride
No where to hide from the truth we feel inside.

No more lies we have seen with our own eyes
We know what is right we know what is wrong
When a cry for mercy can be crushed by a knee
No one in this nation can ever be free.

Pace University is committed to equal treatment of all of  our students, faculty and staff.  You are all welcome here. Visit the ELI website, contact the ELI, or apply here.

Word List

  • mourners (n) – the people who attend funerals after the death of a loved one
  • paid their respects (v. phrase)– what mourners do at a funeral usually to the family who has lost a loved one
  • systemic (adj) – part of or coming from a public system or institution
  • brutality (n) – violence
  • narrative (n) – a story of events or experiences
  • persisted (v) – to continue for a long time
  • Constitutional Amendments (n.) – an addition to a constitution
  • lynching (n) – the death a person suspected of a crime usually by hanging by a mob (group of angry citizens, not the police)
  • disproportionately (adv) – excessively or extremely
  • incarceration (n) – the punishment of prison
  • quadrupled (v) -- to become 4 times bigger
  • cruelty (n) – meanness, violence
  • acquittal (n) – release, dismissal
  • unveiled (adj) – shown to the public
  • reforms (n) – the improvement or amendment of what is wrong
  • chokehold (n) -- a restraining hold in which one person encircles the neck of another in a viselike grip with the arm, usually approaching from behind
  • no-knock warrants (n) – a written document that allows the police to enter a home without knocking on the door