Black Lives Matter | Episode 1

In the premiere episode of the Affirmative Action podcast, we ask what’s different and where we go from here by speaking to a couple of activists from around Arkansas.

Sidewalk memorial

Police brutality against Black men and women has been an issue for some time, but the topic has received much attention in the summer of 2020. The death of George Floyd has sparked Black Lives Matter protests not only nationally, but globally.

The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 prompted the creation of Black Lives Matter when the man who shot and killed him was acquitted in 2013. The following year, a trio of deaths highlighted how police brutality can lead to the death of Black men. A white officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was holding a toy gun at a Cleveland, Ohio park when he was shot and killed by police. Video captured by a bystander shows 43-year-old Eric Garner repeatedly telling police “I can’t breathe” after an officer wrestled him to the ground in a chokehold in Staten Island, New York.

As the years have passed, we’ve learned the names of more Black men and women who’ve died following interactions with the police: Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd.

On Memorial Day, 46-year-old George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed on the ground. Transcripts from police body camera footage show Floyd repeatedly told officers he couldn’t breathe.

A memorial near where George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis features murals, signs and flowers.

A study published in 2019 by researchers from Rutgers University, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Michigan, found police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. According to the report, over a lifetime, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police.

If this summer’s protests are any indication, Black men and women and their allies want that statistic to change. George Floyd is not the first black man to die at the hands of police nor is he the first black man whose encounter with law enforcement has been captured on camera, but the reaction has felt stronger, swifter.

In our premiere episode, we try to figure out what’s different and where we go from here by speaking to a couple of activists from around Arkansas. Emma Davis and Layla Holloway are two University of Central Arkansas students who organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Van Buren.

They’re also members of the governor’s Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas along with Kendrell Collins, an attorney from Little Rock. We also talk to Rickey Booker, an associate trainer, facilitator and consultant for the IDEALS Institute at the University of Arkansas.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.