After George Floyd was murdered by former police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the United States. The protests were among the largest in U.S. history, with The New York Times estimating that between 15 and 26 million Americans participated. The size and scope of the protests shocked observers, as it came in the midst of a global pandemic and brought many Americans out of their homes for the first time in months. Although the murder of George Floyd sparked immediate outrage and calls for change, some have asked whether the incident led to any broader change in American society. While there is evidence for and against, it is increasingly clear that corporate America has recently placed a greater focus on anti-racism and improving diversity.
Corporate America has seen perhaps the largest shifts since the summer 2020 protests. Corporations pledged tens of billions of dollars towards anti-racism initiatives and organizations aimed at helping people of color. Corporations also dramatically increased their in-house diversity and inclusion initiatives and made greater representation an organizational focus. More than a year after the event, a strong majority of employees want their employers to speak out against racism.
The protests also directly led to state and local governments taking action on Confederate monuments. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated that over 160 Confederate monuments were removed in 2020. These monuments came to be seen as protecting and enshrining a legacy of hate and racial hierarchy. Similarly, the protests sparked backlash against Native American mascots in professional sports. The Washington Redskins changed their name to the Washington Football Team, and the Cleveland Indians changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians.
The “defund the police” slogan was established in the wake of the protests. The defund the police movement seeks to radically reshape policing and move funds for police departments into other departments which focus more on mental health and community advocacy. The defund movement has not had much tangible political success, and some have even argued it has sparked a political backlash against liberals. But it also remains a part of the legacy of the George Floyd protests, even if its results are more complicated.
The end of the protests also has led to some pessimism. Despite the movement of corporate America towards anti-racism, only 2% of CEOs at the 50 largest American companies are Black. There remains limited data on police shootings, and the federal government still has not taken action on any major police reform legislation. Racial justice advocates acknowledge that there is a long way to go before ending police violence in the U.S. But the George Floyd protests did bring some important change, even if that change hasn’t gone as far as some would like.