A year ago, on Tuesday (May 25), George Floyd was killed by a police officer in the city of Minneapolis in the United States.
Subsequently, the city was rocked by huge protests for racial justice, which spread first across the US and then beyond, with massive demonstrations taking place in many of the major European cities.
These protests didn’t just focus on police brutality. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained recognition in Europe, issues of systemic discrimination and even Europe’s colonial past began to emerge.
One year after the murder that sparked a summer of protests, how much has really changed in Europe?
Police brutality is also a problem in Europe
“Where there have been promising changes, we are still in the implementation stage, but the impact has not yet been felt on the ground,” says Ojeaku Nwabuzo, senior researcher at the European Network Against Racism.
She tells Euronews that the Black Lives Matter uprising “was the spark for a lot of development and discussion in Europe around police violence,” but no concrete changes have yet been seen.
Nwabuzo is investigating police brutality in Europe between the years 2015 and 2020, noting that there is a “huge data gap” across the continent when it comes to recording police violence against minority groups.
“What we do know is that there is a problem with the police and law enforcement agencies brutalizing, profiling and disproportionately policing racialized groups,” he says.
But many of the demands that organizations like his have been working on for years, “like looking at structural and systemic forms of racism”, were quickly heard and answered after the outbreak of protests, he says, “specifically in the EU.” .
EU ‘Action Plan’ on Racism
In June last year, the European Parliament passed a resolution on George Floyd’s protests, addressing structural racism and police brutality in Europe.
This was quickly followed by a Commission action plan against racism – getting some praise from activists.
“This is a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Nwabuzo. “The way these plans were developed, the language used, acknowledging structural and systemic racism in a way that we have not seen the Commission before.”
Evin Incir MEP, co-chair of the European Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup, told Euronews that the action plan was “an important signal that the Commission took this situation seriously immediately”.
She says the protests put pressure on politicians “we even thought we would not vote for the wording that contained the resolution”, and says the recent appointment of the EU’s first anti-racism coordinator, Michaela Moua, is “very important”.
Moua’s role is to coordinate the implementation of the action plan, which according to Incir has not yet borne fruit in people’s daily lives.
The action plan contains proposals to improve law enforcement policies, the safety of extremists and greater equality in areas such as employment, health and housing, but additional legislation to fill any gaps will not be until 2022.
ENAR’s Nwabuzo says the protests in Europe were “really significant” in forcing concrete action at the legislative level.
“The protests put anti-racism and racial justice on the political agenda, where lawmakers could no longer ignore the issue,” he says.
“It is important that we continue to make our voices heard on the issue, that we do not stop,” says Incir.
“Some of the knowledge has reached the legislators, but also the people need to keep standing up for anti-racism because otherwise, unfortunately, there are some legislators who have very little memory.”
The protests also forced some European countries to accept their colonial past.
Protesters attacked statues in public places commemorating figures linked to colonial violence and the slave trade.
In Bristol, UK, a crowd tore down the statue of Edward Colston, a wealthy ‘philanthropist’ who made most of his fortune in the slave trade, and threw it into the river.
Similar acts took place in Belgium, where many statues of King Leopold II, known for his rule over the Congo Free State, adorn the streets.
Daphné Budasz, a PhD researcher at the European University Institute, says the debate over statues existed long before the 2020 protests, especially in countries like the UK and Belgium.
But it did broaden the debate, opening similar conversations in countries that until then hadn’t paid much attention to it.
“Living in Switzerland, the Swiss don’t usually consider that they have a link to colonial history, but even here last year we had a discussion about a statue in Neuchâtel, a guy named David de Pury, who made his fortune by trafficking slaves. ”He tells Euronews.
“This was a non-existent debate, and suddenly because of Black Lives Matter it became visible even here.”
However, momentum around this issue appears to have stalled. Last week in the UK, the long-running campaign to remove a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes from an Oxford University college was defeated once again.
Although Oriel College claimed it agreed that the statue, at the center of the year-long #RhodesMustFall campaign, should be removed, it said high costs and complex estate planning rules meant it would not be removed. .
Instead, he said he will work on “contextualizing” the university’s relationship with Rhodes.
“I have the impression that there is no real political will to properly discuss this issue,” says Budasz, who points to French President Emmanuel Macron’s response to calls for the statues to be lowered.
“The Republic will not erase any trace or name from its history,” he said in a televised speech last year.
“He will not forget any of his works, he will not remove any of his statues.”
“What they are suggesting is that the people calling for removal are the reactionaries, the ones who want to change history,” says Budasz.
“We don’t want to change history. The debate is too polarized and there is a kind of refusal to understand the symbolic element in the monuments and the meaning in the commemoration ”, he adds.
His view is that the debate over the statues was perhaps more of a “buzz”, that it reached a wider audience at the time, but now those who still fight for [the] the elimination of colonial relics is once again a minority.
“We continue to use history as a tool to build or reinforce national identities, when history should be a fundamental tool to understand today’s society,” he argues, noting that monuments are intended to commemorate.
“A statue is not a historical artifact, it is not an archive, it is a narrative of history. It was put there on purpose. “
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism