George Floyd: Beyond the Emerging Rhetoric
It was like a scene from a Hollywood movie, a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, an African-American from Houston, Texas, the United States, for about nine minutes while his victim kept lay face down repeatedly pleading for his life with what has now become the slogan for the Black Lives Matter Movement, ‘I CAN’T BREATHE’.
Thanks to a video recording of that fatal incident in Minneapolis by Damella Frazier (BBC), which showed that Floyd was already gasping for breath while Chauvin had his knees on his neck in placid indifference, hand shoved into pocket.
Then America went on the broil, as African-Americans as well as other White and Latino, recoiled by the unfathomable brutality played out before them, and went on protests.
Shops were vandalized and looted as criminal minded persons seized the occasion to help themselves to other peoples’ goods, which is no doubt a sore point in the protests, as it does no good to the memory of Floyd.
However, Floyd case is one out many in the annals of United States, which along with the likes of the United Kingdom pride itself as being the beacon of democracy and human rights. History does not judge the US right in this matter, as racism still ranks high in every segment of the society, which some fair minded White Americans have come out to acknowledge, indicating that the time has come for soul searching in the race equilibrium in the United States.
Also a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on race relations in the United States indicated that 72 percent of black respondents said it was “bad.” 63 percent of whites acquiesced same.
Similarly, a post by Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Anna Brown and Kiana Cox (2019) Pew Research Centre, reveals that about six-in-ten Americans (58%) see race relations in the U.S. as generally bad, pointing out that it is a view that is held by majorities across racial and ethnic groups. The study indicates blacks (71%) are considerably more likely than whites (56%) and Hispanics (60%) to express negative views about the state of race relations.
The implication of this is that it shows the American society is quite aware that racial issue lingers amidst it, a waiting time bomb. More than two centuries and four decades after independence from Britain, United States continues to witness brutal murders of blacks in the hands of some racist police officers, besides other dehumanizing treatment, especially in the 19th and 20th century.
The racial animosity knew no limit, the most pathetic being the case of a teenager George Stinney Jr, 14, who was executed via electric chair in 1944, on unsubstantiated charge of killing two white girls in South Carolina.
Over 70 years after Stinney’s death, he was exonerated. The current partly violent protests in the United States, which has gained global traction, come on the heels of the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, an African American woman, and Ahmad Arbery by a White man and his son in while their victim went out jogging in Glynn County neighbourhood in Georgia.
Eric Cantona, a former Manchester United player captures the anti-racism mood with a piece of poem by Senegalese poet Leopold Senghor, whose muse speaks on race and humanity.
“Dear White brother, when I was born I was black. When I grew up I was black, when I go in the sun, I am black. When I am sick, I am black. When I die. I will be black. While you White man, when you were born, you were pink. When you grew up, you were white. When you go in the sun, you are red. When you are cold, you are blue. When you are scared, you are green. When you are sick, you are yellow. And when you die, you will be grey. So between you and me, who is the coloured?’
While global response to Floyd killing has been unprecedented with protests in United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan, Zimbabwe, France, it is important to place the issue at stake in broader perspectives. While Derek Chauvin’s action is apparently racist, his profession, police, is what is associated with dehumanization and brutality. It is not just in United States, every nook and cranny of the world, in societies where police are left to act without restraint, what follows can better be imagined.
In Canada, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam was repeatedly punched by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police office, according to a report on BBC. Across the continents of the world: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, it is the same story. Recently, in Kenya, three police officers were arrested after one of them was filmed apparently dragging a 21-year-old woman tied to a motorcycle.
In Nigeria, survey by NOIPolls, according to BBC, show that 77% of Nigerians express reservation about the police, pointing out that their brutality is high. The study was conducted in the aftermath of the death of Remo Stars Football Club player Tiyamu Kazeem in the hands of a police officer.
Now, it is an election year in the US, and trust politicians, Floyd’s death is taking on political undertone, with the principal actors, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, seeking to outdo each other to gain momentum as the November poll looms. US President Donald Trump had sought to kick off his election rally for the November poll on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The date commemorates the end of slavery in the US. Tulsa was also the scene of the worst massacre of blacks in 1921. Outcries forced Trump to perish the move. Trump equally sought to appeal to religious sentiments by visiting the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Joe Biden, it is quite obvious, sees the racial issue and ongoing protests as a trump card to sell himself as the candidate America should vote for come November. And he has used every opportunity available to tell the nation that ‘America is crying for leadership’.
Care should be taken therefore that issues of racism and police brutality which Floyd’s death should address is not beclouded by political chauvinism. It is imperative that police reforms be put within global context, not just in the US alone, where the idea is now a front burner following George Floyd’s death.