On May 25, it will be four years since George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis policemen. He was not the first Black person to be killed for no reason, and sadly he will likely not be the last. The vivid scene of the police with their knee on his neck choking him to death while he called to his mom was burnt into our minds and hearts.

A Google search of Black persons killed by police produces lists going back into the last century. Some names we remember – Emmett Till, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner – and many others we never hear or know about. Wikipedia has a running list of murders by year. It is depressing to read, and a tragic reminder that the fight for racial justice and equity has barely begun.

In my home community of Greenbelt, we have been gathering annually in May since 2020 to remember George Floyd and the names of the many others killed by police or other racially motivated violence. Each year we realize that remembering is not enough. We ask ourselves what progress are we making here in Greenbelt in advancing racial equity. Over half the residents of Greenbelt are people of color. It is only in recent years that the city government leadership has begun to reflect our population and we have begun to discuss what does racial equity look like when allocating resources to all the neighborhoods of Greenbelt.

From my perspective, it is becoming more difficult to stay focused as a community and nation on how we are going to advance “liberty and justice for all.”  While modern technology has allowed us to see these horrendous murders, like most reactions and protests, they are challenging to sustain without personal and community commitment. The upcoming national election, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and pressing personal issues compete for time, attention, and media coverage.

For a brief period after George Floyd’s murder, groups of people of all races and ethnicities united in demonstrations and demands for change. For a short period, there was change, despite the fact there was a large part of the white community who questioned whether George Floyd didn’t deserve what he got from the police. Some thought the demonstrations were “fake news”. Some laws were passed and policies changed. There was a moment when parts of some communities owned their individual and collective acts of racism out loud. I sensed there was a push by some to get at underlying causes of structural racism.

In Greenbelt, pushed by the leadership of a progressive 29-year-old Mayor, the citizens voted to approve a referendum calling for the formation of a Reparations Commission. The 21-person Commission’s charge is “to review, discuss, and make recommendations related to reparations for African American and Native American residents of Greenbelt.” The question passed with a vote of 1,522 in favor and 910 against.  

Here as in other cities, police reform was discussed and some changes made. Then the pushback began. News headlines suggested that changing police policies were resulting in increased homelessness and lawlessness in major cities.

Four years after George Floyd’s murder, we are at a tipping point. The presidential election in November will be the most obvious indicator of attitudes and actions being taken all across America. It will either reinforce and strengthen the movement for racial equity and justice or support the growing number of victories of the white supremacists. as they continue to take control of what we read, how we vote, how we educate our children, who gets what health care. Our nation will continue to disrespect and not treat as humans a significant part of those who live here as we become numb to our national regression in racial equity.

While the issues are overwhelming and complex, we are not powerless to act for change. We have choices. White Christians, for example, can stand up to the misuse of faith and organized religion to reinforce white supremacy and hate. Those rightly concerned with the ruthless violence in Gaza, Ukraine, Libya, and other parts of the world might choose to work for peace, and for racial justice, as might those who see structural racism playing out in climate issues, health care, and education. If we each broadened our lens to look at all issues with an intent of ending structural racism, the battle for racial equity could evolve toward the direction of fairness.

George Floyd was a victim caught in a war against Black people and equality. He is a reminder of our racist past and the thousands of deaths and injustices before and after him.  Without persistent attention and an energized civil rights movement, we will lose ground as a nation. A desire for equity is not enough. It requires organized action and commitment. The anniversary of George Floyd’s death is a great time to pause and take stock of what we each can do to end structural racism and advance equity for all.