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What changes did Black Lives Matter protests cause? Not enough, activists fear

Families and organizers protesting George Floyd's 2020 murder see little federal progress and limited state changes.

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Many still remember the signs and the demands of those who were at Black Lives Matter Plaza when it was still 16th Street. They wanted police accountability reform nationwide, they wanted to shift funding from hiring police officers to paying for mental health services. They wanted voting reform. They wanted economic changes. 

On a federal level, nearly all of those pushes for change failed. But on a local level, advocates say they’ve seen some limited success.

FLASHBACKS OF FRUSTRATION 

Melissa Covington from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, wasn’t into tea, but now brews it to help calm the flashbacks.

"I really thought that that would spark a change that, as of today did not happen," said Covington.

The Covingtons protested on the streets of D.C. after the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis Police officer. Melissa and her daughter Aminah took shelter in the Swann Street Northwest home of Rahul Dubey to avoid a kettling mass arrest by DC Police on June 1, 2020. They were hoping their voices would be heard and help make a change.

WUSA9 sat down with Covington and her three daughters to recall the two-year anniversary of the protests.

“There are still Black people dying out there for basically not doing anything. And police brutality is still going on," said 12-year-old Alani Covington.

Credit: Becca Knier
Amani Covington, Melissa Covington and Alyssa Hamilton speak about the future of Black Lives Matter at their Upper Marlboro, Md. home.

“It makes me upset that we still have to go through this after years of protesting and having to prove that our lives matter," said 16-year-old Alyssa Hamilton.

“I wish I can say things will eventually work itself out. But I just don't see no progress," said 22-year-old Aminah Hamilton on a video call, phoning her family from her new US Army post.

FEDERAL DELAY, STATE SUCCESS

Through 2020, there were multiple bills in Congress aiming to meet demands by many Black Lives Matter protesters to reform police use of force policies and oversight. Democrats came up with the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” Republicans came up with the “JUSTICE Act.” Both bills failed to pass. Both bill sponsors, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Ca.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) ignored WUSA9's multiple attempts for an interview to explain how they would continue to press for change.

We walked the length of Black Lives Matter plaza with BLM DC organizer April Goggans, her first time since the 2020 protests. She looked back beyond police reform, towards changes to reverse centuries of economic oppression of racial groups – with hope for a lasting grassroots movement.

Credit: Becca Knier
WUSA9 with BLM DC organizer April Goggans at Black Lives Matter Plaza May 2022.

“This is a plaza named for your movement. Do you truly feel it?” WUSA9 asked Goggans.

“Absolutely not. I’ve never felt that this was for us. I felt like it was for picture ops that quickly became a memory," Goggans replied. "We’ve always tried, actually, to get the government to be the entity that changes these things. But when we look, the change has always come from the bottom. It comes from the working class, poor folks, who make up a majority of the country. We never put stock in Congress to begin with. It’s a tool, and when it works, it’s great. But part of the reason we needed a Black Lives Matter movement, or the mobilization of people, was we realized Congress couldn’t do it."

University of Maryland sociology professor Dr. Rashawn Ray worked to pass local legislation: “At the federal level, there was very little change. I mean, it could be argued, none at all. At the state and local levels, there was quite a bit of movement. I mean, first, we saw a lot of banning of no-knock warrants, we saw an increasing and a focus on say, implicit bias training. In Virginia, there was quite a bit of movement similar to the Maryland Police Accountability Act. I testified in the state of Virginia on a series of things banning no-knock warrants. Thinking about an increasing level of oversight in the state of Virginia was big. The State of Virginia even brought up a discussion about qualified immunity. That's huge for a state like Virginia."

A FAMILY LEGACY

Credit: Becca Knier
Univ. of Maryland sociology professor Dr. Rashawn Ray.

Most parents dream of passing on a legacy to their children, but Melissa Covington worries, that legacy may mean protesting alongside her daughters for years to come.

 "I'm pessimistic; I don't see this going in our favor for a long time," said 22-year-old daughter Aminah.

12-year-old Alani replied, "I'm still sad that how I actually have to deal with or I actually have to hear that and I might have to deal with something like that myself in the future."

"I myself might be put in danger or my family is in danger, my future kids might be," worried 16-year-old Alyssa.

Mother Melissa Covington said, "When you think about what you're out there for, it means that people don't value your life as much as others . . . I proudly have them stand with me."

If there weren’t many changes coming from federal leadership, there were some changes in the corporate boardroom. According to consulting firm Deloitte, the number of Black men and women on the board of directors in Fortune 500 companies increased by 24 the year after the protests.

It’s increasing at a slow pace, though. At this rate, it will take until 2074 for ethnic minorities to gain 40% of those board positions.

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