NEW YORK - Lessons can be learned from George Floyd’s death and the protests it sparked across the country.

Historians say too frequently police officers killing black men have led to demonstrations, but not created needed change.

“The reason there so much anger is because of how vile and disturbing George Floyd’s killing was,” explains Brian Purnell, Geoffrey Canada Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Bowdoin college.

The Brooklyn born and raised and city educated professor says the demonstrations in New York City are about New York City and its history, including the killing of Eric Garner in 2014. However, Purnell says the protests and the unrest now make him look back to the violence after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In over 140 cities in April of 1968 disturbances, violence, disruption and… destruction ensues,” Burnell says, “Now, if you look at New York City in 1968.  New York City does not burn in the way that Washington DC burns.”

“We will continue to see this as long as we see police killings and police abuse,” says Clarence Taylor, CUNY Professor Emeritus, Modern African American, Religion, Civil Rights.

Professor Taylor says history will keep repeating itself until there is real change.

He looks at the Harlem Riots of 1964 after a white Police Lieutenant shot and killed a black 15 year old, saying even though Mayor John Lindsay pushed for a more powerful Civilian Complaint Review Board, it went no where.

“Police organized a campaign to dismantle that review board.  The police union was successful in doing so,” said Taylor.

It’s about the political power police have, he explains and the real power they have over people.  Taylor, who is also a former Brooklyn Public School Teacher says he would eventually like to see a Civilian Complaint Review Board with more than just the ability to recommend dismissal, but the strength to actually fire a police officer.

Purnell agrees concrete reforms are necessary, but short of that points to powerful images like the ones with high ranking members of the NYPD and regular officers kneeling with protesters in the city, that may have helped keep New York demonstrations more peaceful than other city's.

There’s much more than can be gained with police leadership standing with communities than there can be gained from police leadership standing opposed to communities in full riot gear,” he says.

Purnell says the leadership of these demonstration is more decentralized than previous ones, and thinks that creates an opportunity for change. 

Taylor says the protesters should now take their movement to the polls to affect change in local political races.