Written by Natalia Brusco, GICJ


On Monday, the 25th of May, a black man named George Floyd, was killed by police authorities in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The police had received a call about a suspected forgery. After the suspect, George Floyd, was apprehended and handcuffed, an officer used his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck to hold him down. In a video recorded by a bystander, George Floyd was clearly motionless for several minutes. However, the police officer continued to press his knee on Floyd’s neck resulting in his unconsciousness and consequent death. As Floyd uttered, “Please, I can’t breathe” several times, the police officer and his colleagues continued to inhumanely pin him down.

The aim of this article is to analyze the death of George Floyd and condemn the institutional racism and implicit race bias embedded into America’s criminal justice system. As another black man’s life is taken by the police force in America, institutional racism must come to an end.


Official Measures

All four police officers at the scene, Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng, have been fired from their positions. This was the first step. On May 29th, Derek Chauvin was taken into custody by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. However, as of June 3rd, Chauvin’s charges were elevated to second-degree murder. In terms of the other three officers, they have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

On June 8th, prosecutors set an unconditional bail for Derek Chauvin at 1.25 million US Dollars, or 1 million US Dollars with the following conditions: being law-abiding, making future appearances, not working in a security or law enforcement capacity, surrendering firearms or ammunition and any fire arm permit, restricted from leaving Minnesota, and not to be in contact with George Floyd’s family.

The three other police officers involved, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, are also being held on $1 million bail.

On June 10th, George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, asked for changes to be made in regards to police reform and accountability. United States House Democrats are constructing a policing reform package that would include provisions designed to increase accountability and transparency. These provisions include banning chokeholds, the creation of a National Police Misconduct Registry, incentivizing state and local governments to conduct racial bias training for officers, and setting restrictions on the transfer of military-grade equipment to local law enforcement entities. This is to be delivered to the United States House of Representatives floor the week of June 22nd.




Large protests have followed in the past days in response to police conduct towards black people, and the demonstrators have been fired at with rubber bullets and tear gassed in response. This reminds us of the fact that black people in America are consistently persecuted by state violence. This tragic loss of life calls for justice. Black people living in America deserve to feel safe and should not have to continuously fear for their lives.

Since George Floyd’s death, protests have taken place in all 50 states, as well as in 18 different countries. These mass protests show strength and tenacity, demonstrating this isn’t simply a civil rights issue, but a human rights issue. As stories such as George Floyd become much too familiar within black communities, this is a much bigger problem than people have imagined. Countless innocent black lives have been taken away for decades, while accountability for police brutality has been continuously pushed aside. Citizens of the United States are beginning to realize that they are fighting for more than “justice,” but for police reform, safety within their communities, and an end of racism.

Jim Wilson – The New York Times

David J. Phillip – Associated Press

Pain and anguish have resulted in these protests transitioning into riots and looting. The violence and destruction that is involved in these protests shows that people have had enough. Curfews have been instilled in major cities around the country and the National Guard has been mobilized by approximately half of the United States. However, the protests continue despite these restraints. People do not feel listened to and are demanding change within the system, feeling as if they cannot obtain change any other way. One thing is certain- wrongful black deaths will not be in vain.

This violence is a direct consequence of decades upon decades of hate against black people in America. These protests are a moment of clarity for everyone. They represent people who have been oppressed for much too long and want to reclaim their humanity by acting on their anger. People who continue to protest argue that we can only fix this world together, and we cannot be divided any longer.

According to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, tear gas is a chemical weapon banned in warfare. However, it is legal to use in law enforcement. This has resulted in a man losing his eye in Indiana and countless others struggling to breathe and feeling as if their eyes are burning when exposed to tear gas. People are worried that the coughing produced as a result of exposure to tear gas will further contribute to the spread of coronavirus. Now, people are pushing for the United States Congress to pass legislation prohibiting the use of tear gas in the United States.

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel - Associated Press

To make matters worse, Americans have watched their police force turn from protecting them to instigating violence against them. Arrests have reached the thousands in response to these protests.

There have been countless instances in the past two weeks since George Floyd past away of policemen cussing, pushing, and pepper-spraying peaceful protestors. One woman protesting was pushed to the ground by a police officer so forcefully that she became concussed.[1]  Many videos have been released involving police responding to protests with violence against demonstrators, escalating tension even further.[2] This violates trust between the police and the community they have sworn to protect. On June 4th in Buffalo, New York, a disheartening video was circulated showing police officers pushing an elderly man to the ground. The elderly man’s head bleeds on the concrete as the police continue to walk by him, glancing down quickly as they pass, before help is called. The two officers that pushed the man have been suspended, and the man has been taken to the hospital where he remains in serious condition.[3]

However, this is just one incident of countless other violent police acts against demonstrators.  Other incidents gaining traction and circulating on various news platforms show people standing on their front porch getting hit with rubber bullets and police cars driving through protests. Of course, these all add fuel to the anti-police sentiment. These protests represent legitimate frustration over the failure of the police to reform. Protests are the first step in gaining attention, whereas making concrete change and reforming the criminal justice system has a long way to go.

Julio Cortez – Associated Press


Institutional Racism and Implicit Race Bias

The systematic injustices embedded into the American criminal justice system are being held under a microscope by the public as people are growing tired of the countless injustices displayed against black communities.  In the United States of America, black people are faced with daily prejudices because of the color of their skin. The injustices committed are becoming tragically normal. Structural racism is becoming a more apparent reality that must be falsified.

In regards to George Floyd, the Minneapolis Police Department wrote up a report following the incident writing that Mr. Floyd died of a medical condition. This appears to be their attempt to cover up their violent, inappropriate actions that symbolize the injustice of the entire system.

After analyzing the deeply disturbing video, investigators concluded that handcuffed Floyd did not show obvious resistance. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, betrayed his oath of office. He swore to serve and protect the people of his city, but, instead, deprived Floyd of his life neglecting due process of law. This catastrophic failure of training resulted in unequal protection for Floyd because of the color of his skin. As a police officer, you are required to be a first responder. If you are trying to obtain compliance, but someone is hurt, you have a duty to render aid. If someone is in positional asphyxia, in which they lack access to air due to their body position, you need to adjust them accordingly. Derek Chauvin failed to uphold his duties in this tragic incident resulting in the death of George Floyd.

One reason it is going to be hard to reform the police system is that American policing is mostly local with around 18,000 different police forces in America. In California, training police officers can last anywhere between 24 to 48 weeks. On the other hand, in North Carolina, one can become a police officer in simply 16 weeks. This varied amount of time in training makes a huge difference when put into practice. Further, overall statistics show that black people are three times likelier to be killed by police than white people. Despite making up 13% of the adult population, black people represent 33% of the imprisoned population[4].


Past Incidences

Disheartening Deaths

This is not a new phenomenon. To be black in America is seen as a constant danger. Institutional racism must come to an end. The injustices involved in racial profiling that are embedded into the criminal justice system has resulted in a death sentence for black Americans across the country.

This horrific incident is not isolated, but is part of a larger story within American history where the color of one’s skin determines how one is treated. The Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, stated earlier this week that if Floyd were white, he would still be living today. This is a clear injustice.

Philando Castile, who was shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop (2016); Eric Garner, who passed after being held in a chokehold (2014); and Breonna Taylor, who was brutally murdered in a wrongful police investigation (2020), to name a few, are incidents that have become much too common.  The black victims who have been stripped of their lives solely based on the color of their skin goes on and on. When police officer Daniel Pantelo fatally choked Eric Garner in 2014, the country saw an outburst of people across the country condemning his actions and seeking justice so this never happens again. Six years later in 2020, history is repeated because the criminal justice system is chained to a legacy of violence against black people in America.

In 2012, a young black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was walking with his hood on throughout a residential neighborhood where he was visiting his father’s fiancée. Police officer George Zimmerman shot the unarmed young man out of what he claimed to be self-defense. This 17-year-old boy did not deserve to die for walking on the street with his hood on. The racial profiling and implicit race bias that Martin looked “suspicious” merely because of the color of his skin sparked outrage across America.

The lack of accountability and unjust actions of these institutions leads to senseless deaths. Eric Garner, who was allegedly selling illegal cigarettes, was confronted by the police in 2014 when they automatically grabbed him in a chokehold and held him down on the sidewalk. As he yelled, “I can’t breathe!” repeatedly, they continued to apply pressure even as Garner lay motionless. The police claim he suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Again, this story is much too familiar. Daniel Pantaleo was finally fired in 2019, 5 years later. Is this justice? According to the NYPD Patrol Guide, “Members of the Force shall not use a chokehold”. Pantaleo committed an illegal action by using a chokehold on an unarmed man and was simply fired 5 years later. The delays in police reform are costing people to lose their lives and for America to be further divided.

Justice and Reform

It is also important to reference history for further explanation. It was just 56 years ago that America passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Before this, enforced racial segregation laws were enacted in the United States to separate blacks from whites in America. The United States has come a long way since then, yet as we witness today, black people are far from being treated equally.

The Black Lives Matter Movement, an international human rights movement, was created to raise awareness and increase solidarity amongst the black community. The organization exists to fight and struggle together to defeat systematic racism and end racism against black people. This social human rights movement, which is gaining more traction due to recent events, is sending a message to the United States and the rest of the world that black lives will no longer be devalued. The bottom line is that black people do not feel safe in their own communities and, in turn, they will fight for the freedom they rightfully deserve.

People from around the world hear of George Floyd’s story, Garner’s story, Taylor’s story, and countless others, and are left heartbroken and disgusted. America needs to be in solidarity with black communities and the criminal justice system needs to stand accountable for their actions against black lives. This system needs to change- and it needs to change now.  George Floyd’s death is reminiscent of so many other black people whose lives have been taken away. Clear measures need to be taken against the perpetrators and they need to be held accountable for their horrific behavior.

According to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs, two of the four officers involved in the George Floyd incident had multiple prior complaints against them (Derek Chavin – 18 complaints, Tou Thao – 6 complaints), many for situations involving inappropriate conflicts between the police and minorities. There should be restrictions in place against officers with previous complaints to prevent wrongful actions from occurring.

Emphasis should be placed on the fact that justice is not enough. The United States needs reforms when it comes to its criminal justice system. The current criminal justice system enforces discrimination, and powerful unions exist to protect bad cops. Within the judicial system of America, prosecutors in police misconduct cases tend to side with the police out of respectability and professional courtesy. Qualified immunity, a legal doctrine in the United States, allows officers to only be convicted if they went against a “clearly established” constitutional right.[5] This lets police officers get away with many acts of misconduct.

Both justice for black communities and reform of the police system are necessary to end senseless deaths and disheartening stories from being tolerated and pushed away.

Police Brutality

There is no excuse for police brutality. 99% of killings by police from 2013-2019 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime. The lack of accountability leads to these same actions of wrongful killings and discrimination to repeat themselves. Ironically, ending police brutality is simple.  There are proven solutions of instilling specific policies that, for example, limit the use of force allowed, ban chokeholds, forbid shooting at moving vehicles, and more, that have been implanted in various police departments. As a result, these police departments kill significantly fewer people.[6]

The police should not be killing those they serve and swore to protect. Police brutality happens all the time, but when its caught on camera, it becomes a different story. What people can see for themselves causes an emotional response that isn’t always aggravated from reading a report. What happened to George Floyd was seen by everyone in America and beyond. Watching something with your own eyes gives a person truth. In response to George Floyd’s death, the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called on the United Nations to “classify the mistreatment of Black people in the US by the police as a human rights violation”. The NAACP argued further, demanding for police reforms and acts to be passed in regards to accountability. This further shows that police brutality is not only a civil rights issue, but also a human rights issue. Black people deserve equality, not wrongful deaths at the hands of police brutality.

Response of the President of the United States

According to the NAACP, in collaboration with the African American Research Collaborative and the Equity Research and Innovation Center, the results from a recent poll show that “75% of African Americans think that Donald Trump is the single most dangerous threat to African American people”.[7] This is specifically because of President Trump’s failure to protect the country from Covid-19 and his disregard on its effect on black people, a population that has been hit the hardest during the pandemic due to health disparities in black communities.

In regards to President Trump’s response to George Floyd, he has threatened military action against citizens involved in violent protests, stating in a Twitter post that “…when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”[8] Further, President Trump encouraged governors to deploy National Guard troops. This call for a militarized response to maintain the violent protests has been strongly rejected by many former leaders.  ABC News made a poll that emphasized nearly two-thirds of the United States disapproves of President Donald Trump’s response of George Floyd’s death.

On Monday, June 1st, law enforcement released tear gas on peaceful protesters in order to make room for Trump to take a picture with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. This action of militarizing against peaceful protestors corrupts trust between citizens and the military officials who swear to protect them.

James Mattis, former United States Secretary of Defense, denounced President Trump as a threat to the Constitution. He argued that Trump is not try to unite the American people, but divide them, and the protests and corresponding violence on behalf of looters and policemen are the result of Trump’s leadership over America throughout his term.[9] This shows his credibility as a leader has decreased due to his response to the protests.




One of the reasons George Floyd’s story has sparked outrage is because of the refusal for the police involved to take responsibility. To add to the chaos, the world saw the failure of the President to respond which led to further escalation. The reason protests are happening in all 50 states and 18 countries is because this is more than one black man dying at the hands of a white policeman; this is about ongoing racism in the United States of America that has gone on for centuries.

The systematic inequalities that result in black lives being devalued call for an end to injustice. The protests are an expression of anger and grief which invoke the necessary response to spread the message that the black community has had enough.

Silence against police brutality and against those in positions of power feeds into the cycle of violence that perpetuates America. This is why demonstrators are protesting to uphold America’s values as a people and a nation, fighting so that United States citizens are granted equal justice under the law as they should have been guaranteed all along.


International Reaction

Global Recognition

A global wave of activism has been triggered in response to George Floyd’s death. This international outcry is massive because each country has their own histories of inequality and racism. Countries in the European Union who have legacies of colonialism are tearing down monuments, changing street names, and demanding change within their own police systems. Also, many countries have criticized the United States government’s handling of the demonstrations and thus sympathize with American protesters. This anti-racist movement is making it increasingly obvious how many parallels other countries have with the United States in regards to police brutality against minorities.

A protester lists the names of minorities killed by Swiss police; Geneva, Switzerland, June 9 2020 - GICJ

A protester lists the names of minorities killed by Swiss police; Geneva, Switzerland, June 9 2020 - GICJ

UN Position

On June 5, a group of UN independent experts (including the “Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” the “Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association”, and the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)) strongly condemned the recent killings of African-Americans in the United States of America. They recalled that policing in the United States began with the use of “slave patrols and social control” and reminded the international community that the legacy of racial terror and state-sponsored violence against people of African descent persists in modern-day policing by virtue of impunity. The UN experts also recognized and expressed concern over the “violence, arbitrary arrest, militarization, and the detention of thousands of protestors”, including targeted threats against journalists and black reporters in response to the demonstrations. The UN stands by international law which protects journalists who are performing public duties and condemns these discriminatory attacks.

Additionally, on June 10 UN independent human rights experts further condemned the crackdown on peaceful protests noting the hundreds of videos in circulation that demonstrated excessive use of force by police, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. The experts were also alarmed over the deployment of the National Guard noting that they were not trained to manage protests.

The UN thus calls on the United States to implement specific policies designed to increase transparency and accountability in policing. Experts specifically drew on the 2015 recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to be implemented which calls for human rights to be applied equally to all citizens regardless of race or ethnicity.[10] Essentially, the UN denounces the unnecessary violence incited by the US government against peaceful protesters, calls for an end to the use of force against peaceful protesters, calls for policing reform, and condemns violent attacks against people due to their race. In addition, the UN independent experts also expressed concern over arrests and detention of protesters during the COVID-19 crisis warning that such unjust and unwarranted actions could “exacerbate the risks of serious disease”.[11]



In a matter of days, the world has seen a black, handcuffed man pleading to breathe at the hands of a white police officer. This has resulted in omnipresent anger, violent protests, and a demand that the officers involved face criminal charges. We denounce the police involved in the death of George Floyd because the devaluation of human lives is never tolerated. The international community needs to speak up against racism and act against implicit race bias to develop a normal standard for treating all people equally.


GICJ Position

Immediately after the incident, GICJ, in a statement dated June 1st, condemned the police involved in the death of George Floyd and called for changes to be made to America’s criminal justice system.

GICJ jointly, with several other NGOs, submitted a written statement to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council demanding not only justice for George Floyd and the lives of countless other black American’s, but also for changes to be made in America’s criminal justice system. The police force’s training process should be altered to address ways to combat unequal treatment. Guidelines for actions and consequences of police brutality need to be transparent, established and followed to guarantee justice and public safety for Floyd, his family, and for all black communities. We believe the institutional racism embedded into America’s criminal justice system can be changed, and this starts with perpetrators of all acts of police brutality to be held accountable for their actions. Governments, both local and national, need to be responsible for maintaining order and instilling public safety as their top priority.

Lastly, we called on all UN Member States to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and its ‘programme of activities’ towards ending racial discrimination and injustices. It is necessary for every country to adopt concrete equal opportunities for all peoples especially at the social, cultural, economic, and political level. Together, we can and must end the legacy of unequal treatment.


[1] The Economist. “How to Fix American Policing,” June 4, 2020. https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/06/04/how-to-fix-american-policing?utm_campaign=the-economist-today.

[2] Shoichet, Catherine E. “Protests Are Erupting over Police Brutality. And Some Officers Are Responding to the Outcry with Force,” June 5, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/02/us/police-protests-use-of-force/index.html.

[3] Croft, Jay. “2 Officers Are Suspended after Video Shows 75-Year-Old Man Being Pushed during Protest,” June 5, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/05/us/buffalo-police-suspension-shoving-man-trnd/index.html.

[4] The Economist. “How to Fix American Policing,” June 4, 2020. https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/06/04/how-to-fix-american-policing?utm_campaign=the-economist-today.

[5] Legal Information Institute. “Qualified Immunity.” Accessed June 6, 2020. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/qualified_immunity.

[6] “Mapping Police Violence.” Accessed June 6, 2020. https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/.

[7] NAACP. “New Poll Reveals COVID-19's Impacts on African American Communities,” May 21, 2020.   https://www.naacp.org/latest/new-poll-reveals-covid-19s-impacts-african-american-communities/.

[8] Trump, Donald J. “....These THUGS Are Dishonoring the Memory of George Floyd, and I Won't Let That Happen. Just Spoke to Governor Tim Walz and Told Him That the Military Is with Him All the Way. Any Difficulty and We Will Assume Control but, When the Looting Starts, the Shooting Starts. Thank You!,” May 29, 2020. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266231100780744704.

[9] Goldberg, Jeffrey. “James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution,” June 3, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/06/james-mattis-denounces-trump-protests-militarization/612640/.

[10] United Nations, “UN Experts Condemn Modern-Day Racial Terror Lynchings in US and Call for Systemic Reform and Justice,” OHCHR, June 5, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25933.

[11] United Nations, “United States: UN Experts Condemn Crackdown on Peaceful Protests and Highlight Calls to . Overhaul Policing,” June 10, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25948.


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Key words: Discrimination, police brutality, systemic racism, racial discrimination, justice, impunity

Country: United States of America

Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice 

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