Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer

Cornellians and the greater Ithaca community join the nation in protest against racist police brutality in a march from Ho Plaza to the Ithaca Police Office on June 2. The University hosted an event reflecting on social movements and modern struggles for freedom.

April 7, 2021

A Year Later, Cornell Event Reflects on George Floyd Protests

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Collaborating with multiple departments including history and sociology, Cornell hosted an event that reflected on protest and how social movements can learn from the activism spurred by the police killing of George Floyd.

In the event “Learning from the George Floyd Rebellion: Social Movements and Black Freedom Struggles Today,” speakers Prof. AK Thompson, sociology, Ithaca College, and Prof. Russell Rickford, history, drew on their varying backgrounds to approach the topics of the event from a combined sociological and historical perspective.

Over 40 people attended the virtual event. Thompson was struck by the number of attendees, many of them college students who chose to spend their Friday night on a Zoom call. 

“I think it speaks to the fact that many people feel the need to think through what’s going on and to find their place within it,” Thompson said.

Arielle Rochelin grad, who studies African American history, said she attended to “hear a thoughtful discussion about activism in the post George Floyd era.”

The event focused on what students, and the nation, can learn from the protests almost a year after the initial nationwide protests broke out in response to the police killing of George Floyd. 

Thompson and Rickford discussed the ability for social movements to achieve change and longevity amid opposition and slow-moving bureaucracy. The speakers discussed how some reforms made by police forces — such as the banning of chokeholds in some cities in the aftermath of the protests — intended progressive reform, but fell short.

Rickford and Thompson discussed the use of violence in social movements, noting that although the majority of the George Floyd protests were peaceful, they said both activists and law enforcement officers carried out violence. Thompson discussed both the positive and negative impact that activism-generated violence can have on generating change and the place it holds in the realm of advocacy. Because both police and protesters perpetrate violence, it isn’t as one-sided as the media portrays, according to Thompson.

After the event, Thompson said one topic raised during the Q&A session he found particularly interesting was the long-term sustainability of movements. 

“Moments of rebellion cannot last forever, so the challenge is always one of finding means by which to ensure that their lessons and momentum get passed along,” Thompson said.

Thompson stressed the importance of looking at the past to grapple with the issues in the present.

“It’s important for people to carve out times and spaces to think through both past and unfolding events,” Thompson said. “Only in this way might we orient ourselves collectively to the challenges and opportunities that remain on the horizon.”