Were they worth it?: Key protest movements over the decades

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FILE - In this June 16, 2019, file photo, protesters march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong. As 2019 drew to a close it seemed to do so in a blanket haze of tear gas as protesters and security forces faced off in almost every corner of the world. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

LONDON – The protests that left much of the world in a haze of tear gas last year were slowed by a pandemic – until the death of George Floyd sparked a global uprising against police brutality and racial inequality.

From Hong Kong to Khartoum, Baghdad to Beirut, Gaza to Paris and Caracas to Santiago, people took to the streets in 2019 for the pursuits of freedom, sovereignty or simply a life less shackled by hardship while few prospered. It seemed as if the streets were agitated everywhere but the United States.

Now, after the death of Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died in police custody when a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes, protests rage around the globe.

Police or military brutality and racism are universal dynamics that are experienced in many societies.

The very nature of a protest suggests a fervent desire for change, the need to right a perceived historic injustice. It’s a means to an end. But to what end? Depending on the government the activists are demanding change from, the results can be varied.

Demonstrations were held last week in solidarity with American protesters, but Floyd's death also had resonance and reverberations far beyond U.S. shores because of those lives lost closer to home in similar circumstances.

As the coronavirus crisis eased in China, protesters in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous territory, began to emerge again. And Beijing moved swiftly to quash the movement that caused unrest for months last year, enacting a national security law that would effectively end the existence of one country, two systems.

A democratic government that is amenable to the changes may enact legislation, or a change of leadership can be forced at the ballot box.