A tribute to 'Black Lives Matter'
On May 25th, four police officers brutally killed a black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis, United States. One of the police officers, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes while people made videos of the incident on the street. When Floyd passed out, an ambulance was called and he was announced dead. What followed is now one of the most crucial events in American history. As protests started from the next day, the worst chaos descended upon the US. What was a moment has now become a movement. Protests have spread to all 50 states of the United States of America. 21 people have already died during protests. The National Guard has been called to control the demonstrations and the situation is spiralling out of control. George Floyd is now a rallying cry and with the confluence of multiple factors, this incident will lead to far-reaching results for minorities in the US and outside. After America, protests and demonstrations have been seen in Sydney, London, Europe and South Americas. George Floyd has become a symbol of struggle and defiance for a cause that has not been corrected in centuries of State discrimination and injustice. The call now is for accountability, equality and equity.
In order to understand the context of the George Floyd incident, one needs to be aware of the fact that it is a tipping point. The racial injustice and the brutality do not stem from killing one man on the streets by the police, it is over 400 years old. Putting the facts in perspective, it was 1620 when the first African slave ship arrived in North America. The slaves were all black who were kidnapped by Portuguese colonial soldiers, who were then sold to English families in Indiana. Following the first ships, it became a regular practice. Blacks were stripped of their names and identities and were titled negro, nigger, coloured or simply black. By the 1700s, over 100,000 black slaves were brought on ships directly from different parts of Africa to America. These slaves were killed, tortured and sold on slave markets without any legal or political protection until the 1800s. In the South, the treatment of Blacks by English speaking Whites was particularly horrific. Torture, rape, murder, flogging and keeping Blacks as slaves’ generation after generation was the normal practice till the political movement of 1964. Only around the 1970s, did the Blacks get established political rights. Leaders like Martin Luther, Malcolm X and
Elijah Muhammad were key figures in securing rights for Black Americans. Malcolm X put the “X” in his name to signify the identity that his ancestors lost when they were captured and sold as slaves. For 400 years, Blacks in America have been treated like lesser human beings. Even after the civil war and the rights movement, Blacks are still heavily discriminated against. Although the Constitution of the United States Government does not allow discrimination and oppression against any specific race, religion or creed, it is hardly true in the real sense. As of today, there are 42 Million Black Americans as 13% of the population who feel that they are targeted and discriminated against, victims of police brutality. In statistics, there have been more than 7000 black killings by the United States police and law enforcement agencies between 2013 and 2020. But the issue is much worse than just brutal killings.
After the horrific video of George Floyd being killed by four police officers went viral on the internet, there were massive social media movements under the slogan “Black Lives Matter”. Another twitter hashtag was, “I can’t breathe”, which were the last words by George Floyd before he died. He was only to be questioned for being in possession of counterfeit currency notes. He was unarmed and not hostile. His family and friends knew George Floyd to be “the gentle giant”. Massive protests erupted which are still not subsiding. Curfew was imposed in many cities by the Government. It must be kept in mind that these protests have become even more aggressive due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the unemployment that has come with it.
After the first case of coronavirus case appeared in the United States, there has been a lockdown in all 50 states since March 2020. Due to the lack of market activity and lockdown based bankruptcies, unemployment in the United States has risen by 13%. The death of George Floyd and the anger it sparked, was multiplied two-fold by the lockdown and the economic challenges of the people. Another researcher concluded that the protests were made possible as more and more people were available in their homes and out of jobs to actually come out and take part in the protest. The death of George Floyd has coincided with the economic depression that is worse than the depression of 1930s. The frustration of joblessness made the protests aggressive and the prospect of looting, arson and robbing stores, banks and shops is understandable. Almost in all 50 states, there have been incidents of looting and burning public property. Governors have been appealing for calm while medical experts are warning that these protests and gatherings will give rise to another wave of Covid-19 virus outbreaks. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is now in full swing. After pressure from the protests and the demonstrations, the four police officers who were part of the George Floyd murder, have been arrested while Derek Chauvin, the police officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck has been charged with second degree murder. George Floyd is now a symbol of defiance, resistance and change for many others like Breanna Taylor, Jamar, and many other black Americans whose deaths did not yield results.
Human history is infested with examples of division, racism and barbarism. There was always a case of “us” versus “them”. Our common humanity fails to unite us. Class, creed, race, religion, language, social status, divide us to the extent that sometimes it becomes a part of the system. When it does, it is called systemic discrimination or just systemic racism in the case of Black Americans. In today’s world of media, communications, ideals of justice and fair play, collective and systematic injustice are not sustainable. Brutality cannot be tolerated, discrimination is not alright and wherever they are, there will be forces to even the odds. The World is changing and the old ways need to be reformed. Black Americans are twice as likely to be killed and tortured by the police, black American kids are not accepted at top universities as much as white kids, blacks are subjected to Government screening procedures, black Americans have forty percent less chances to given jobs in top companies and the same goes for many other social indicators. A bill to protect the rights of Black Americans will be presented in the American Congress on the 4th of July. It is the first victory for George Floyd. Other countries are also in the process of reviewing their past mistakes. The colonial powers of the past are being questioned as statues of leaders like Winston Churchill who supported slavery and colonial rule were blackened in London with the graffiti, “Black Lives Matter”. Countries like Germany, South Africa, Rwanda moved forwards when they realized their mistakes of discrimination, perhaps it is time for the United States to join the ranks. “Admit your mistakes, bury them proper, lest they will come back to haunt you”, is the call. Black Americans are slaves no more.
(The writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)