The order by Pentagon officials to the National Guard helicopters to disperse protests in Washington D.C. earlier this week was criticized as a show of force generally used for combat zones by human rights organizations, as per news reports. The United States of America, as many fear, seems to be heading towards a potential civil war. But what led to the massive unrest in such a critical time when the entire world is reeling under the threat of a pandemic and social distancing is by far considered the best way to prevent oneself from getting affected by coronavirus?
George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes despite having him handcuffed face down on May 25. Floyd was arrested on suspicion of buying cigarettes using a counterfeit bill. Videos from several witnesses on spot were widely circulated and broadcast, and the incident got quickly picked up by the media. While the unarmed man pinned down to the ground suffered, two other officers further restrained him and another prevented onlookers from intervening, with Floyd repeatedly pleading and saying “I can’t breathe”. Towards the end of the nine-minute ordeal of having Chauvin kneeling on his neck, Floyd laid without a pulse, but the officers made no attempt to revive him. In fact, Chauvin continued kneeling on Floyd while emergency medical workers tried to treat him.
All four officers were fired and Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The FBI and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are both investigating the incident.
This comes to light just after the accused persons in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder were charged. The unarmed jogger’s death, the events following the investigation, and the fact that the men were not arrested for over two months after a video of the incident went viral, sparked debates globally about the lack of racial equality in America. While the debate was still raging, another viral video made the news. A white woman unnecessarily cried for help from the police over a phonecall when a bird watcher who happened to be a black man asked her to put a leash on her dog at a park.
These incidents are not new in the country – cases of police brutality and many white people being biased against black persons are rampant, and have been so for ages. But there always comes a saturation point, beyond which people cannot take it any longer. That’s when thousands of people set out to peacefully protest against the most recent incident, recalling numerous other similar incidents seeking justice and peace.
How often do white men get arrested as compared to their black counterparts? It takes days, months, and at times years to even arrest a white man despite having evidence against him that even general people can understand to be crucial. But just a black man seen strolling down the street can get him to be questioned, checked, and arrested for suspicious behaviour, or even killed in an encounter by the police.
Suspicion, rejection and the continuous pressure of having to prove oneself are just a few factors that gave birth to this huge protest which spread like a wildfire across the nation and abroad.
Long-neglected police reforms
House and Senate Democrats are expected on Monday to unveil a package of police reforms in response to the death of George Floyd and other such encounters between African American persons and the police. The Minneapolis City Council banned city police officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints and put heavier restrictions on the use of chemical irritants as part of a temporary restraining order on June 5.
Rep. Val Demings discusses the need for police reform via a video call at The Ellen Show:
Racism, is it?
In an opinion piece published by the New York Times, professor of African-American studies Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross, says that it is “anti-blackness” and not racism that killed George Floyd. The idea is further clarified in the article by an argument made by Frank B.Wilderson, a professor of African-American studies, who coined the term “Afro-pessimism.” As per Wilderson anti-blackness indexes the structural reality so that in the larger society, blackness is tied to “slaveness.” “While the system of U.S. chattel slavery technically ended over 150 years ago, it continues to mark the ontological position of black people. Thus, in the minds of many, the relation between humanity and blackness is an antagonism, is irreconcilable,” reads the article.
24/7 Wall St. came up with a list of worst cities in the US for black people following the nationwide unrest. Such is the gravity of the situation that people are protesting in the streets in huge numbers not worrying about their health or the health of their immediate loved ones, but holding up signs that say “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” hoping to bring about balance in society and uproot the deeprooted discrepancies in millions of minds across the globe.
But should there still have to be a demand in a developed country in the 21st century? Is it not a basic human right to be treated with mutual respect and not discriminated against?
Sitting here in India, many of us aspire to have the lives of those in first world countries, but how often do we consider the cons of living in such countries? No nation is absolutely flawless, while we mostly get to see the bright side of society in the first world nations there’s always a dark side to consider – which might sometimes be way scarier than the ugliness we witness in our own not-yet-developed nations.
For all these decades the United States has been held high in position as the world’s most powerful country by the rest for the world for various reasons – being the oldest democracy is one of the major ones. But with slavery being abolished 150 years ago, why do still a huge chunk of modern-day white Americans feel threatened by the mere presence of a black man? Why do still many white people have that sigh of relief after experiencing numerous setbacks and yet thinking at least I am not black or things could have been worse?
The real question is, under all the glamour of economic development and talks of acceptance and progress, have we really been able to bury the past? Has history taught us nothing, or has it just allowed us to sugarcoat our yet so typically non-progressive minds with convenient hypocrisy?