Skip to main content

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, current and former students hope for change

A graphic of five people holding hands with the words above that read "Justice for George, Justice for all."

As the United States and the world at large reels in the face of protests and riots in response to the death of George Floyd after being choked by Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, BYU–Hawaii students called for policy change and unity in order to bring healing to the nation and the beyond.

Demetrius De Moors, a African American recent BYU-Hawaii graduate from Georgia, said better policies are the answer for the police brutality problem. “What we need is policy. A zero-tolerance policy for police brutality would be nice. [I] don’t know that they can change the individual, but they can influence behavior with adverse consequences.”

Jessica Smith, a recent graduate from California who majored in international peacebuilding, said in order for the nation to heal, people need to stop making excuses.

“We need a full societal transformation, from fear and mistrust to hope and understanding. That requires every single one of us, regardless of our race, to stand up for black lives.”

The latest incident followed soon after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, who were African Americans killed by current and former police officers. Taylor was shot by police in her home after police entered the wrong address while fulfilling a search warrant, while Arbery was killed by a former police officer while on a jog.

The video showing the death of Floyd has sparked international outrage and protests in several cities across the United States. However, De Moors said the video wasn’t surprising to him.

“It’s been so often as of late. I feel a little desensitized. I almost expect to see it every other week or month. Not to say it’s not tragic or that it wasn’t heartbreaking, [I’m] just not surprised.”

Five days after Floyd’s death, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Jackie Morris, a junior from Virginia majoring in social work who is also African American, said the arrest felt too little too late.

“My heart isn’t content with just justice anymore. Justice matters, but nowadays it feels like justice is a [bandage] to a bigger problem.”

My heart isn’t content with just justice anymore. Justice matters, but nowadays it feels like justice is a [bandage] to a bigger problem.
Jackie Morris

Morris said in the latest high-profile case of an unarmed African American being killed by police, she has felt a different reaction than before. As she gets older and more mature she said she understands the issue more, which makes each example of police brutality sting more, Morris explained.

“And there’s a realization that my skin color won’t change, therefore the treatment will persist as well.”

De Moors said in past times of mass outrage over police brutality against African Americans they have been isolated incidents. However, this time Floyd is the third "viral killing of a black person in [the last] four months.”

De Moors said Floyd’s death has felt like a “culminating event,” and feels as though “they’ve built to a crescendo.” This crescendo has been felt across the United States in the form of protests and riots across major cities such as Atlanta, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City.

“[I] support the protests. I can’t say I support the looting and burning of property, but I understand it,” said De Moors. He said although he recognizes some people have used the protests and twisted them to serve their own interests, he still supports the ideals behind protesting.

Protestors carry signs that read "Silence = violence" and "Black Lives Matter."

“I say there’s no reason not to protest. [If] you don’t protest, nothing changes.” De Moors said it should be up to the people and their elected representatives to instill changes in society. “They say vote … Let’s see what happens this time.”

Morris said she is worried protests are no longer the best way to initiate change as they once were during the civil rights movement. “Back during the Civil Rights Era, the protests and marches were effective. But as time changes, I think methods should change. I really feel there is a lack of solidarity.”

A path to healing

The way to heal is by starting small, said Morris, “If people really want to change and really want to make a difference … we need to appreciate the great acts that result from small things.”

Racism and hatred are not inherent in people, but it is taught in homes, schools and communities, she explained. If change is to come, people need to be patient and try to make changes in their own circles first.

“Nothing just ‘poof’ happens, and then we are all good or all bad. Teach good habits and speak good words at home.”

Hundreds of protestors take to the streets during the day.

Both Morris and De Moors emphasized the importance of politics in solving this problem.

De Moors said, “I think politicians' acknowledgment of [the] situation and actually creating an agenda of change would help. That’s on the part of the people. We need to hold our politicians accountable.”

Morris said people need to pay attention and vote in elections in both the national and local levels. “Keep up with those elections, [the] big ones and especially the smaller ones. … Those votes matter.”

For those who want to help, Morris said to “Show up, [and] speak out. … If it matters to you, then speak up.”