By Amrit Muttukumaru –
What is all the hullabaloo about the brutal daylight murder of unarmed African-American George Floyd, at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers on 25 May 2020? Is not police brutality against African-Americans, ranging from assault and battery to murder for the flimsiest of reason, been par for the course for more than a century? Such brutality, prejudice and discrimination against African-Americans can only occur in a culture of impunity.
The sheer scale of the unprecedented nationwide protests (interspersed with violence) in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, has probably surprised even African-Americans themselves! It has culminated seemingly in an unstoppable demand for systemic change in US race relations and given a major boost to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which had limited traction after its founding in 2013.
This phenomenon could be better understood, if one has an appreciation of what possibly triggered this change. It eluded spirited attempts by the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 for which King labored and even an African-American – Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Is it not ironical that such passions have been unleashed during the presidency of Donald Trump, who is perceived to be not popular with African-Americans? Does not the question arise, whether this unprecedented demand would have occurred if Trump was not the US President? Is this not an intriguing proposition? Has his unconventional brand of aggressive politics, given expression to pent-up feelings particularly among African-Americans, after the brutal slaying of George Floyd?
Why didn’t the murder of unarmed African- American Eric Garner in 2014, at the hands of New York City police officers under circumstance reminiscent of George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” plea, not culminate in a demand for systemic change in racism? This was at a time when African-American – Barack Obama was US President. George Floyd is well on the way to attaining cult status possibly even surpassing that of Martin Luther King Jr. Does this not say something of the dramatic change that has now occurred and of changing values?
In stark comparison with the tardiness with which instances of violence were dealt with previously, the Minneapolis Police Department has promptly dismissed the four police officers responsible for the murder of George Floyd. We also witness the breakneck speed with which police officer Derek Chauvin directly responsible for the murder, was charged with third-degree murder which was soon enhanced to second-degree. The other three dismissed police officers who were previously not charged, have now been charged with aiding and abetting a second-degree murder.
In the more recent encounter of an African-American with the Atlanta police, which led to the death of Rayshard Brooks under circumstances different to the brutality experienced by George Floyd, there was the immediate termination of police officer Garrett Rolfe who fatally shot Brooks. He has now been slapped with a controversial murder charge. There was also the immediate resignation of Atlanta police chief Erika Shields. Such occurrences were unheard of prior to the George Floyd saga.
While there is a strong case for drastic police reform, should this not be undertaken without undermining morale in the legitimate pursuit of law enforcement? The call to ‘defund the police’ if taken to extremes can be self-defeating.
In the midst of the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality, which for the most part is peaceful, there are alarming instances of violence consisting of vandalism, looting and arson. If not nipped in the bud, it has the potential to derail this watershed moment. Those responsible must be reined in and made accountable. Sections of the mainstream US media, presumably with their own political agenda, have either downplayed or exaggerated the violence.
Although a reassessment of US history is necessary as a cleansing process, this must not lead to vandalizing statues and monuments associated with white supremacy. Such statues are an integral part of US history and should be placed in museums as a reminder of “Man’s inhumanity to man” as penned by Robert Burns.
Presidents Trump & Obama
Whatever President Obama’s shortcomings (the disastrous Libyan foray and retaining the Nobel Peace Prize are examples), he was a unifier of communities. Despite being a people-friendly person and an African-American, he was not able to trigger a demand for change in race relations anywhere near to what we witness today.
On the other hand, an unprecedented nationwide demand for change in race relations has occurred during the presidency of Donald Trump. This is despite not endearing himself to African-Americans and his aggressive persona.
Is it far-fetched to postulate that these very attributes in conjunction with:
1) The scale of the unprecedented nationwide protests
2) The ‘softening’ of the attitude of ‘hard- liners’ in the ‘white’ population due to the perceived uncertain future thrown up by the coronavirus
have created the environment for such a demand?
Could it not be said that if Donald Trump was not US President, it is unlikely that the protests would be on this mass scale? Such are the emotions he brings out from African-Americans in particular.
The realization of the “Dream” of Martin Luther King Jr. will be a long and arduous process, as there are shades of ‘Derek Chauvin’ in the psyche of millions of ‘white’ Americans. No legislation or catchy slogans such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ can cure this.
The George Floyd murder seen worldwide on electronic media, has found global resonance due to grave human rights abuse and racism in their own countries.