The death of the US citizen George Floyd killed by a police officer on Tuesday, May 26, in Minneapolis triggered both peaceful and violent protests around the globe. Video footage showing how the “Gentle Giant”  died while handcuffed, when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than seven minutes, went viral, leading to an international outcry, questioning brutal wrongdoing by police forces against black people.

The impact of the disturbing and traumatic pictures has been wide ranging and massive, as the incident itself is yet another example of so many similar tragic occurrences, where black people are brutalised and even killed by white people. Even in this period of a dramatic and deadly pandemic, the totally unwarranted and unnecessary death of George Floyd is generating outrage all over the world.

As was revealed afterwards, George Floyd has a history as a music artist. As “Big Floyd”, he was two meters tall, and was a member of the legendary Houston hip-hop innovator DJ Screw’s crew, ” according to reports in startribune.com (*1). But ultimately it was the filmed brutality of Floyd’s killing that has now led to a powerful response by the international music community, condemning and protesting against this execrable act of violence.

One of the most remarkable things is how popular female artists in particular instantly reacted and to the murder of George Floyd: Beyonce, Billie Eillish, Brittney Spears, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Lizzo, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift, are just a few of the names who offered their solidarity and were unafraid to express their anger. Then there was also punk band “Vandalize”, who played a concert (*2) on a pickup truck at a demonstration in Los Angeles.  

By way of a consolidation of the anger and outrage, ”Blackout Tuesday” became a global campaign (*3) , featuring major music companies such as BMG, Live Nation, Sony Music, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, as well as IMPALA, the trade organisation representing independent music companies.

But long before all this, back in the sixties when pop music and popular culture allied themselves with the civil rights movement, it was most usually hate crimes such as the murder of the activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi and the shooting of Martin Luther King (1965) that contributed,  alongside the Vietnam War, to what later on led to the so called “Summer of Love” (*4) in 1967.

Due to the Corona-pandemic, 2020 will be the Summer of Silence for performing artists and the live music sector. From a historical perspective, Blackout Tuesday will be regarded as a meaningful part of 2020, and as proof of how pop culture and its protagonists – from the early days of the civil rights movement in the US, to Rock Against Racism (1976), Free Nelson Mandela (1984)  – Black Lives Matters is a necessary step towards contributing to the development of a liberal and democratic society.

George Floyd will be remembered as an activist in the long and bloody fight for freedom, but also hopefully as an artist who unfortunately gained popularity post mortem…