“I Can’t breathe…”

 

…these were the last words of George Floyd, killed in Minneapolis while not resisting arrest, the latest in a long line of African Americans murdered by the US police state.  The protests that have followed the murder of Floyd have exposed once again the deep divisions in the so-called “land of the free”, where apartheid may no longer be enshrined in law but is very much the reality of the day to day lives of the black population.

Minneapolis(2)

Protests mount against apartheid policing in the United States

Floyd was handcuffed on the ground for 11 minutes with a police officer pressing his knee into his neck, while three other officers stood by.  An ambulance was finally called when Floyd lost consciousness but he died later in hospital.  The public prosecutor has charged one officer, Derek Chauvin, with murder in the third degree.  That is killing without intent.  The other officers have so far not been charged.

There is a point after which, pressing your knee into the neck of a man who is protesting that he cannot breathe, especially when he is handcuffed on the ground, becomes intent.  The fact that video of the action went viral left the officers involved with nowhere to hide but behind the time honoured fortress of white privilege.  The killing has resulted in protests across the city, with a predictably robust police response.

Ilhan Omar, congressional representative for Minnesota’s 5th District, which includes Minneapolis, tweeted:

“Shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at unarmed protesters when there are children present should never be tolerated. Ever. What is happening tonight in our city is shameful. Police need to exercise restraint, and our community needs space to heal.”

The protests in Minneapolis are a reflection of the outrage relating to the death of George Floyd but are now spreading to cities throughout the United States.  The murder resonates throughout the black community.  Do black lives matter? Not very much as far as the United States is concerned.

Apart from the lived experience of the Black community and nationwide initiatives such as Black Lives Matter, studies have shown that across the country, Black people face intense bias in the criminal justice system. Minneapolis city data shows that Black residents are more likely than others to be stopped and searched by police as well as to be the targets of police use of force.

Floyd’s death is similar to that of another Black man who died as a result of police misconduct, Eric Garner.  Garner was killed when a New York City police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, put him in an illegal chokehold that resulted in his death. The officer was never brought up on charges.

Inevitably President Trump has weighed into the controversy with a helpful tweet, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”  It is not surprising that civil rights activists have seen such an intervention as provocation.  In an election year though Trump’s only agenda is to play to his base and he knows that the African-American vote is never going to swing his way.

Trump’s response is in stark contrast to his attitude to armed nationalist white militias groups who have been protesting against COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in recent weeks.  In effect Trump has conceded to the business lobby to open up large sections of the economy whether it is safe for workers to return to work or not.  Threats to withdraw unemployment benefit are being used to force workers back to the workplace, whatever the consequences for their safety.

Mainstream US media is inevitably focussing upon the damage and allegations of looting which have followed the protests since Floyd’s murder.  Whatever the truth of these reports, the reality remains that the world’s richest state and self styled defender of democracy, treats a huge section of its population as second class citizens based purely on the colour of their skin.

That is the real scandal, that is the real injustice which needs to be addressed.

 

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