George Floyd Didn’t Die So That Black People Could Die Less Often • •
George Floyd shouldn’t have died. It’s important for me to first acknowledge that this anniversary should not be. When Black people die, we don’t really multiply. George Floyd did not leave his house that morning thinking that it was his time to become a martyr for a better America. He woke up on Monday, May 25, 2020 with plans to live another day—not plans to become the catalyst for a commemorative moment, or America’s woke reckoning.
Last Sunday, I went to a block party in Bed Stuy, just two days before folks would honor Floyd’s legacy. It felt like…Brooklyn, in the way that you took a pregnant pause at the ellipsis. It was sweaty, smelled like pre-pandemic nostalgia, and looked like a crayola box overflowing with shades of brown and black. Folks were shea butter shiny as they grooved to tunes from Sounds of Blackness’ “Optimistic” to Tony Mattehorn’s “Dutty Whine” and everything in between. It was cinematic Black joy, and there wasn’t a cop in sight.
Today, we honor the death of a man who will be remembered in the tragic pantheon of Emmett Till. A white man’s knee on Floyd’s neck will be our last Instagrammable memory of his last breath, of his last words, of the last person he requested—his mother. We remember him dying, so that we can be killed less often. And, that is what progress looks like in the institutional memory of American commemorative expressions of Black equity and justice.
Over the past year, a choir of people demanded, debated, questioned, and learned about what it means to live in a thriving community without the presence of police. A police station was even burned to the ground during this edition of the American charade of change. Capitalism diversified its future portfolios to Black and Brown death at the hands of law enforcement. The NBA stepped up. Boardrooms across the country scrambled to make diversity, equity, and inclusion hires, and mad homies I know got them stimulus checks. Newsrooms staffed up for riot coverage, (because organized confusion does make for “great TV,” after all). Sadly, the ecosystem of police violence is profitable. That is also the legacy of Floyd’s untimely death.
For hopeful cynics like me, there is another hard truth. There is a portion of this generation (what y’all call “Z’s”) who believe that they fought a battle and won. We organized, we protested, we rioted and we rallied. Derek Chauvin was arrested and convicted. For many, that meant justice was served—evidence that the American union was proving itself capable of bettering itself. It was glimmer of hope; a synapse between the ideal of justice for all and justice for Black people.
Our temporal memories of police violence are cluttered with the names of Black and Brown victims we can’t remember. Names we misspell and misgender. Too many died before the pound sign on a telephone reinvented itself into a hashtag. One conviction does not absolve the generations of trauma caused by the institution of law enforcement. We remember. We never forget.
Yet, all of us know that there will be more deaths, more beatings, more taser “mistakes”, and more Black and Brown victims too imperfect to care for, like Ma’Khia Bryant and Anthony Brown. That there will be more marches, more rallies, more riots, more ecological trauma.
Now back to that Brooklyn block party. I ran into an old college classmate—a fellow Trinidad Carnival partygoer and NY Knicks fan. He’d been there longer than me so he was sweatier and had more time to bask in the shea butter beauty of all these glowing Black and Brown folk. I hadn’t seen him in over a year. He gave me dap and a hug. He was smiling. He was jubilant.
“Marlon, it’s so good to see your face—to see everyone’s faces without masks, not afraid to be next to each other. I took the bus here from the other side of Brooklyn just for this,” he said.
The beautiful array of Black and Brown shea butter crayons had organized themselves into an electric slide that morphed into a cupid shuffle. The sun was shining, the weather was sweet, and not a police officer was in sight.
On this one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death I want to celebrate the experiences of Black joy and nostalgia that exist without the presence of police. If we are to place socio-historical meaning to Floyd’s legacy, then let that be the recognition that we do not require police as requiem for Black and Brown safety and progress. Let us honor Floyd by interrupting the ecology of police violence and Black progress.
Policing killed George Floyd. Derek Chauvin happened to be the police officer who committed the act. So, why not open ourselves up to the possibility that we can replicate the joy and the communal security divorced from the potential that we could be killed by our ostensible protectors?
Let George Floyd’s legacy be that no more Black and Brown people are killed by the police. That no more Black bodies will be slaughtered “in the name of progress.”
I want more Black and Brown shea butter shiny celebrations without a police officer in sight—without the need for policing in our collective memories.
Marlon Peterson is a New York-based writer, justice advocate and owner of his own social impact endeavor, The Precedential Group Social Enterprises and its nonprofit arm, Be Precedential, Inc. He is the author of Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionists Freedom Song and also hosts the DECarcerated podcast streaming on all platforms.