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A Statement from the Department on the Demonstrations Against the Slaying of George Floyd, Institutional Racism and Police Brutality

Statement from the Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, Brown University on the Continuing National and Global Demonstrations against the Slaying of George Floyd, Institutional Racism and Police Brutality


The tragic final minutes of the life of George Floyd, captured in graphic detail as he begged for his life on the streets of Minneapolis, neck pinned to the ground by a white police officer, pleading that he couldn’t breathe, have been indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of this nation and the entire world. The response rippled from coast to coast, with spontaneous marches, demonstrations and rallies--tearful, angry, and for the most part, peaceful.

Unfortunately, this pattern of anti-black policing is nothing new. In the weeks, years and decades before Floyd’s death, untold numbers of Black people have died at the hands of the police or vigilante violence. Trayvon Martin, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor--the list goes interminably on, with public memory often only focused on those few whose tragic ending was captured on film, through the medium of the smartphone.

Half a decade ago, in response to an earlier upsurge of recorded murders, Black women formed the Black Lives Matter hashtag/movement and gained significant popular support. They were met with the inane counter-claims of “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter”--essentially attempts to erase the historical specificity of institutional state brutality directed against Black people. The Black Lives Matter Movement, however, and other acts of solidarity like Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, established without question that the bucket had overflowed and a new generation of Black people and their allies from across the country refused to mourn quietly, instead publicly confront the police’s institutional racism and its accompanying hatefulness and egregious abuse of human rights.

The massive, persistent, and growing demonstrations of the past week, in tribute to Floyd and all those slain, vindicate the efforts of the BLM, Kaepernick, and all who took a knee and suggest the beginnings of a national and global mass movement against institutional and structural racism. The sheer scale and reach of the protests, from Minneapolis to Miami, New York to Los Angeles, Houston and Denver to Washington DC, despite the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic and in the face of a hostile, gaslighting and recalcitrant administration, points to a national (and increasingly global) inflection moment and a new political situation, in which racism in any form will no longer be tolerated.

In this new configuration, the majority of the nation, but particularly the hundreds of thousands in the streets, are no longer willing to watch and grieve in silence while innocent Black people are murdered, framed, abused and jailed. They assert loudly and without abate “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” The Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre at Brown University, born out of the Black Power movement of the 1960s stands united in solidarity with all those who once again are putting their lives on the line for justice and truth. We continue to do our work here on campus to be a visible presence of excellence in diversity and to share Africana knowledges with all those who wish, in their own ways, to be instruments of change.