On 25 May, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested by four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck while Floyd said: “I can’t breathe,” and “I’m about to die.” Two police officers helped to restrain Floyd, while the fourth stopped passers-by from intervening. Nine minutes later, Floyd was dead.
Those passers-by filmed the killing. Their footage rapidly went viral, and was equally rapidly followed by mass protests across the US and globally, from Germany to Brazil to the UK.
Many people used the protests to highlight examples of racism and injustice in their own countries. In Bristol, UK, the statue of Edward Colston, who made millions from slavery, was toppled. In Rio, protesters called for justice for the killers of black teenager João Pedro Pinto, who was shot in the back during a police operation.
Floyd is by no means the only black person killed by the police in America over the last few years. The deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, and Breonna Taylor all caused horror, outrage and anger, and sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
But the protests around his murder have been on a far wider scale. At the time of writing, they are showing no signs of slowing down – despite many countries still being under lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning that mass gatherings are banned. Why does the rage against racism and police brutality feel different this time?
In the US, the anger is longstanding. “At the core of this rage is a legitimate fear for black Americans: the sense that they can be killed anywhere at any time by anyone, but especially by law enforcement,” writes journalist Sean Collins for Vox. “It is a feeling black Americans have carried for all of America’s history.”
But there are other underlying, global factors that are fuelling this rage: namely the health and economic inequalities which have always been present, but have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
People from BAME backgrounds have suffered disproportionally from the virus. In England, they make up 16 per cent of deaths, with those from a black African background having a death rate 3.5 times higher than white people. In the US, more than 20,000 African Americans have died from the virus. That’s one per 2,000 of the country’s black population.
Research so far has shown that the virus more seriously affects those who suffer from conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. All these are exacerbated by poverty and lack of access to healthcare, which, in turn, are more likely to occur as a result of discrimination and inequality.
As Angela Saini, author of Superior: The Return of Race science wrote in the Guardian: “All the factors that have long impacted the health of minorities were inevitably going to play out in the event of a pandemic… It was as though people had forgotten that racial disparities in health have always existed.”
The pandemic has also triggered unprecedented global economic downturns. People in poverty have always been more vulnerable to pandemics, and COVID-19 is no exception.
“In the context of the current pandemic, blacks are more likely to have low-paying jobs that do not allow remote work options or offer health insurance or paid medical leave,” writes epidemiologist Grace A. Noppert in The Conversation. “The result of centuries of sidelining by American society plays out most obviously in worse health.”
A chance for change
Whether or not these protests will lead to real change – in police attitudes, in attitudes to poverty, racism and inequality – remains to be seen. But it’s hoped that out of this latest act of brutality, positive action might finally follow.
The protests could also mark a tipping point for President Donald Trump come November. A recent CNN poll showed him trailing 14 points behind challenger Joe Biden. (Trump has demanded an apology for the ‘stunt and phony poll.’)
In the absence of any positive commitment from Trump, Barack Obama outlined a plan for change on Medium. “If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics,” he wrote. “We have to do both.”
Important disclaimer: this document is not an official research report and the views expressed in it are those of the authors. The authors are not registered research analysts and there is no assurance the trends mentioned will continue or that the forecasts discussed will be realised. Gold as a commodity is not a specified investment for the purpose of giving advice under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, therefore, this does not give rise to rights to claim compensation under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.