The shocking death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 is unfortunately not a singular event in the US. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, and Amadou Diallo—who was struck by 19 of the 41 bullets fired by four New York City police officers—are just part of a long list of unarmed Black Americans who have died at the hands of the police. That pattern of violence is deeply rooted in the history of Black–white relations in the US and the failure of the leaders of this country to deal with systemic racism. It is worth asking what an organization with a diverse membership such as the American Physical Society can do to effect change.
Yearly, APS hosts large meetings in cities around the US. Perhaps the time has come for the organization to include the treatment of Black Americans by the local police as a key criterion in choosing cities to host the society’s meetings. Cities in which Black people have died at the hands of the police—Baltimore (a frequent destination for APS meetings), New York, and St Louis, for example—might be removed from future consideration. The message APS would send would be powerful. Not only would it say that we do not condone racist policing, it would support the protection of the society’s members and guests who might, for example, venture out onto the said city’s streets while being Black.
The request here is simple: Stop doing business in cities in which the police kill Black citizens. The action would be similar to the divestment movement in South Africa in the 1980s, which was pivotal in ending apartheid. We hope other professional societies follow suit, but as with all causes, someone has to be the first. Physicists should be proud to take the lead here.