NASW remembers George Floyd Jr. on 4th anniversary of his death

May 25, 2024

Photo above by Gayatri Malhotra for Unsplash shows a protestor at rally in Washington, D.C. in June 2020.

By Ja’Bree Harris, MSW, NASW Public Policy and Advocacy Manager

“I can’t breathe” are the chilling words that spurred a summer of racial reckoning.

On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 and told the police that  Floyd bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life. The scene was captured on video by a cellphone and broadcast to millions around the world.

George Floyd’s murder had profound implications for social workers, galvanizing the profession to more vigorously and intentionally confront systemic racism and social injustice. Floyd’s murder became a rallying cry for racial equity and justice.

However, four years later, the journey toward comprehensive policing reform has been fraught with challenges and many Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives have been abandoned.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) today joins the nation in mourning the loss of George Floyd on the fourth anniversary of his murder. The association  reiterates its call for continued community-led police reform and board access to mental health.

For social workers, who are dedicated to principles of social justice, Floyd’s murder highlighted several critical areas of focus and action –  increased awareness of racial injustice, reaffirmation of advocacy roles, critical examination of professional practices, strengthening community relationships, policy advocacy, and mental health and trauma-informed care.

Floyd’s death highlighted the persistent and widespread nature of racial injustice in the United States. As social workers, the NASW Code of Ethics emphasizes the importance of challenging social injustice. This tragedy compelled the profession to examine how systemic racism affects our clients, communities, and profession. It reinforced the need for social workers to be vigilant and proactive in finding and addressing racial disparities in all aspects of our work.

We are advocates for marginalized and oppressed populations. Floyd’s murder, followed by widespread protests, reminded social workers of the importance of their role in advocacy. It highlighted the need to support policies and initiatives that promote racial equity and to stand in solidarity with coalitions and leaders of movements. Since the dawn of social work, we have encouraged people to use their voices and platforms to call for systemic changes in policing, criminal justice, and other institutions that perpetuate racial inequities.

The murder prompted the profession to examine our practices and biases critically. There was a renewed focus on cultural competence and anti-racist practices within the profession. Social workers led in trainings and facilitated educational opportunities around implicit bias, systemic racism, and culturally responsive practices. This introspection aimed to ensure that social workers are not perpetuating harm but instead contributing to a beloved community that promotes healing and equity.

The murder of George Floyd underscored the significance of developing and enhancing social workers’ relationships with the communities they serve. Trust and collaboration with community members – especially those from marginalized groups –  became even more vital. Social workers were reminded of the importance of listening to and amplifying the voices of those directly affected by systemic oppression. This included working closely with community leaders, organizations, and activists to collaborate on solutions that tackle the underlying causes of social inequities.

Floyd’s murder spurred a call to action for social workers to engage in policy advocacy and structural change. The profession recognized the need to address the broader systems and structures that aid in racial inequities. This involved advocating for reforms in policing, criminal justice, housing, education, healthcare, mental health access, and other critical areas.

The widespread impact of Floyd’s murder and the later protests also brought attention to the mental health needs of communities affected by racial trauma. Culturally competent social workers recognize the importance of providing trauma-informed care and support to individuals and communities experiencing the psychological effects of racism and violence. This included creating safe spaces for healing and offering resources to help communities cope with the ongoing trauma of racial injustice.

The murder of George Floyd was a turning point for social workers. It prompted the profession to reconsider the harm that practitioners and community leaders may contribute to the makeup of their communities. It also encouraged a stronger dedication to social justice, racial equity, and systemic change. This event led to a reassessment of professional practices, improved community relationships, and emphasized the importance of advocacy and policy reform.

NASW has a renewed dedication to addressing the root causes of racial inequities and supporting communities’ mental health and well-being. While this tragedy served as a space of atonement for some in corporate America, government and other parts of our society, we must work to ensure there are not repeated George Floyds in future. \We don’t need more martyrs. We must be better and do better. The next generations should not have to pay for our sins.

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Ja’Bree Harris is the public policy and advocacy manager at NASW. Previously, the Detroit native was national community organizing manager for the Democratic National Committee and civic engagement manager and deputy field director for Detroit Action. Ja’Bree earned a master’s degree in social work from Howard University and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University. Follow him on X @JaBreeHarris.

 

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