President Harris reacts to murder of George Floyd


Photo by munshots on Unsplash

Graffiti mural honoring George Floyd from a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, MN.

Daniel Wilcox, co-Editor-in-Chief

Union President, David Harris commented on the recent uproar over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than seven minutes while Floyd visibly struggled to breathe, on May 25. A recording of the incident has since gone viral on the internet, prompting domestic as well as international outrage. In the video, Floyd can be heard saying that he couldn’t breathe, with other officers failing to challenge Chauvin’s actions against the man. This follows on from other incidents of racism, including a white woman, Amy Cooper, falsely accusing a black man, Christian Cooper, of threatening her safety in a 911 call on the same day as Floyd’s death, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on May 7, who was jogging in Glynns County, Georgia. 

Protests have been occurring all over the world, with anger against police brutality and institutional racism. More than 15 million people have so far signed the original petition calling on Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Hennepin County District Attorney Michael Freeman, to file charges against the officers responsible and seemingly complicit. Moreover, social media campaigns have been working to raise awareness of the injustices black people face in society. Black Lives Matter, the human rights movement founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting and death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, has worked to organize nationwide and worldwide rallies of protest. President Harris commented in a video posted on Facebook that he himself has faced racism in his life, and that it is “hard not to be concerned” about the continuing prevalence of racism. Harris also explained that he had focused his studies and research in college on “race and inequality”, as well as working hard to be an “ally and advocate for those that experience other forms of bias.” Regarding the role that Union is playing, Harris cited the “intentionality” of the Strategic Plan, explaining that all members of the community should be engaging, “regardless of their perspectives.” President Harris also mentioned “courses across the curriculum,” as well as “Student Affairs programming.” Additionally, Harris spoke of the importance of “developing connections,” especially in a “small, residential experience.” Harris also explained that it is important to have productive discussion, enabling people to listen and “hear” each other, without becoming “defensive.” 

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy ordered a State of Emergency, which included a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew in response to peaceful protests that took place on May 31, according to an email sent by Union’s Campus Safety. This curfew was subsequently rescinded on June 2. The Chief of Schenectady Police and Union Alumnus, Eric Clifford ’94 was pictured by the Daily Gazette kneeling with protestors on May 31, and will be present at an interactive panel discussion, which is being moderated by Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Fran’Cee Brown-McClure. This panel has been described as being an opportunity for the Union community to “respond and continue to learn” about “incidents of racial injustice.” 

US President Donald Trump has been heavily criticized for his conduct during the protests. Trump had one of his tweets hidden by Twitter for “glorifying violence”, which it described as violating “Twitter Rules”, according to the BBC. The tweet in question used the phrase, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which has been attributed to 1960s Police Chief in Miami, Florida, Walter E. Headley. During the Race Riots of 1967, Headley was renowned for using tough policing to maintain order in Miami, even explaining that he didn’t “mind being accused of police brutality,” as reported by the New York Times.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, as well as third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Meanwhile, the other three officers, who have been sacked from the Minneapolis Police Department along with Chauvin, have been named as Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, and have all been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, as well as aidng and abetting second-degree manslaughter, as noted by the BBC.