I still have not mustered the resolve to watch the George Floyd video in its entirety. The stills by themselves are traumatic and disturbing. With every death of an unarmed Black person in the US, the discussion about race relations reverberates not just across America but out into other parts of the Diaspora as well.
The large-scale protests, both violent and non-violent, cannot be a surprise to anyone who has been watching what has continued to happen in America with the loss of innocent Black life. Racism, like patriarchy, is systematic and engrained. The only way to challenge them is with a suite of measures aimed at education, stronger accountability and cultural change.
After every Black life that was lost in America, the only thing that kept happening was that police officers were fired. Some of them were prosecuted and sent to jail, but only after there was much effort expended by surviving families to keep the matters in the forefront and get justice for family members lost.
The George Floyd killing was especially egregious. Mr Floyd had already been handcuffed and much of the audio associated with the event (which I did listen to) seemed to suggest that he was not resisting officers. Mr Floyd tried to signal several times that he could not breathe or otherwise was in distress. The officer who knelt on Mr Floyd did not have any fear. He was not over exerting himself. In fact, his hands were in his pocket, a clear sign that he was not in any danger.
It was bad enough that the officer who was kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck stayed there – but it was completely mind-boggling that the other officers on the scene were as complicit as the one physically draining the life from Mr Floyd.
The protests happening in America must be contextualized in the events I just outlined. Many commentators inside and outside of America have been commenting on whether the protests should be peaceful. To begin with, this is a contradiction for America. America does not premium peace. America is notorious for going to war as a legitimate tactic as it sees fit. As I pen this, bear in mind the Venezuelan saga and America’s part in it.
If America as a country embraces war as a legitimate tactic, how can the very America be offended when after the killings of Black unarmed people by police and no kind of systemic address to the problem that protests have escalated? This is not the first march for a black man plucked from his children and family. It is not even the tenth. George Floyd died days after another brother, Ahmaud Arbery, was lost in similar fashion and Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was shot in her home.
The current US president right now is a symbol of the very racism that is causing black lives to be in jeopardy. He refuses to commit to wide-ranging changes, education and accountability to ensure that Black people do not continue dying in police custody. He refuses to accept that the problem is not just about the police departments but also the hatred that has been embedded along stark race divisions in every aspect of life in America.
Ignoring protesters will not ease the tensions in America. In fact, ignoring the issue of racism will not address it any place racism exists. There are lessons to be taken from what is happening in America and those have nothing to do with feigning disgust about whether the protests are peaceful or not. A man died – in a blatant and horrific way. He was deprived of air and his dignity as his life spilled onto the sidewalk under him. He could not breathe; none of us really will until we address these issues of inequality and injustice wherever they arise.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the
National Organisation of Women.