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Trigger warning: violence, racism, police brutality
Unsurprisingly, there has been another fatal case of police brutality in the United States. It is unsurprising because scenes like this are a regular occurrence in the United States. There have been 1,099 people killed by the police in the U.S, 24% of whom were black[i]. In a country where the black population amounts to only 13% overall, this is a significant number of deaths in police custody. What may be even more shocking to people is that 99% of these police officers have faced no legal consequences for their actions.
How have we entered a new decade with police officers still believing that they can murder individuals in the name of law enforcement?
George Floyd’s murder was a horrifying turn of events, yet equally unsurprising given the behaviors of police officials across the United States. Mere hours before George’s death, a white woman by the name Amy Cooper called 911 dispatchers from Central Park after a black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), requested that she leash her dog while walking in this part of the park. Mr. Cooper filmed the incident, wherein you can hear Ms. Cooper threatening him and stating that “there’s an African-American man threatening my life” as she called 911. Even though these events took place many miles from each other, they highlight one stark reality within the United States.
The prevalence of white supremacy.
These two following events highlight the everyday reality of black people in the United States. Both videos show exaggerated responses by the white counterpart to the harmless actions of the black person involved. Unfortunately, in the case of George Floyd, it resulted in the worst possible outcome – his death. Mr. Floyd’s death was a result of a police call made by the local shopkeeper. He was arrested and escorted out of the premises. It was outside that the police officer was shown to be kneeling on his neck.
Mr. Floyd’s death illustrates the stark reality of the power held by the Amy Coopers of America; Mr. Cooper could have faced the same fate as Mr. Floyd had the police been dispatched to Central Park – based on Amy Cooper’s false claims.
This is not the same story as the boy who cried wolf – the consequences for black people are much direr. In situations where they are non-violent and even not criminal, they are repeatedly failed by the same system that aggressively protects their white counterparts in instances where violence and criminal activity are present.
Police brutality towards black people is widespread and well-known, actions like those we saw from Amy Cooper and her reckless and selfish behavior in Central Park could have resulted in an innocent man’s death.
What is happening in the wake of George Floyd’s death?
Mr. Floyd was arrested and murdered for forgery – a non-violent crime. Given the nature of the crime committed, it is without a doubt that the measures taken against Mr. Floyd by the officers were excessive and disproportionate. The arrest alone would have been excessive given the circumstances; what the officers have committed here is nothing short of murder.
In true American style, it is almost comedic to see the retribution (or lack thereof) faced by said officers, who have only been removed from their jobs. Derek Chauvin, the police officer, filmed kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck has subsequently been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. In one of the few cases where there has been the prosecution of a police officer, we are forced to see the legislature fail to take appropriate measures for this case of police brutality. Not only has this failed to do justice for George Floyd, but they have also reaffirmed the existing precedent that the police can do whatever they please. The video is enough to see an un-authorized restraining technique by the police officer – yet it was not enough to sentence him to a higher degree of murder where there was an intention to kill.
Michael Freeman, the County District Attorney, has released the statement that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.” In a country where the police have rarely been held accountable for their crimes and involvement in violence and brutality, Freeman’s statement is an example of how this brutality continues despite mass protests. The layer of protection afforded to police officers in the United States is insurmountable. Throughout the many individual cases of police brutality that have been protested and spoken out about, we have seen little to no structural change in the way policing is done.
It is the purpose of the police to enforce the law and maintain public order, and the judiciary was created to administer justice and punish the lawbreakers. The distinction here is that the court should protect those who have suffered injustice whoever they are, including circumstances where the injustice has been caused by the police. Yet, in situations like this, it is evident that instead of safeguarding the people, like they were conceived to do, the judiciary is seen to have been working together with the police to sidestep any accountability for their actions.
By unjustly protecting the police from experiencing the repercussions owed by their abuse of power, we create a system so broken that it begins to create the problem it was made to solve. A system that perpetuates discrimination and erodes away at the chance of having a safe and equitable society.
How can a system continue to fail its people so grossly and not see its own flaws?
Social media has exploded with tweets condemning the murder of Mr. Floyd. The video of the police officer kneeling on his neck was shared and spread through all forms of media, with angry messages being directed at the officers involved. Cities across the US have erupted with protests against police brutality, a scene that has become all too familiar these past few years.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, thousands of people flooded the streets chanting, “say his name,” kneeling and taking a moment of silence to remember George Floyd. The compelling scenes of these protests show the desire of the people to bring about an end to police brutality in the US. But can the system be reformed to the point where brutality stops?
Given the current climate of COVID-19, where there are strict social distancing regulations and measures implemented – you would almost expect there to be a reduction in harm caused by crime and police brutality. Yet, these past few days have just highlighted how difficult and dangerous it is to be black in America.
Without the added issue of police brutality, COVID-19 has disproportionately taken the lives of black individuals in 2020. There have been over 100,000 deaths related to the Coronavirus in the USA since March 2020, of which almost 60% have been within the black community.[ii]
Now, we know the virus itself does not discriminate, but there must be a level of social inequality present, making black people more vulnerable to this disease. In and amongst a global pandemic, where everything has come to a standstill, we are still witnessing the loss of black life. There is such deep-rooted inequality within American society that not even a global pandemic can bring about a stop to the murder of black people by police.
Time has reported that 9 out of 10 coronavirus related arrests in New York City have been of either black or Hispanic people.[iii] At a time where social distancing is necessary, and jails have become breeding grounds for the virus, should we be excessively policing to the detriment of human life?
The protests that broke out in Minneapolis have been met with tough policing and even resulted in the deployment of the Minnesota National Guard. Officials have become irate and condemned the looting of stores and the burning of buildings, yet have shown very little anger about the murder of an innocent black man. States that can excuse systemic racism and police brutality but draw the line at property damage remain the root cause of public unrest.
The crowds of people who have taken to the streets are speaking on behalf of the voiceless and for those lives that have been lost. The rage we see right now in Minneapolis is both for the racial discrimination that exists in America and the sheer disgust towards the level of police brutality that can be gotten away within the “greatest country in the world.”
What can you do?
DONATE. DISMANTLE. DECOLONISE.
Donate – Right now, many black people need your help, in and out of Minnesota. The COVID climate has reduced people’s income and left people without work. Many members of the black community are also without state aid. Take this opportunity to donate to reliable organizations AND, if possible, direct mutual aid. Many individuals are on social media and requesting help. Below is the link for the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which is collecting donations to post as bail for protesters who have been arrested. IF you are unable to donate for any reason – please signal boost.
Local Groups in Minnesota:
Dismantle – We, as non-black people, have a lot of self-reflecting to do. This is something that can be achieved by educating ourselves. We cannot and should not stay stagnant until we are faced with dire situations like we are now. Educating ourselves on systemic racism and how we are unconsciously reaffirming a system that is anti-black and inherently racist is important. This is not only applicable to white people, but to everyone whose skin color protects them from police brutality. Also, as a reminder, it is not up to black people to educate us. Many books and articles have been published about being black in America. Start with those. If you are looking for a more parsed out curriculum for your journey of dismantling racism, many black authors offer this type of learning through Patreon and other platforms where you can pay them for their labor.
USE. YOUR. VOICE. – Silence is a stance and a violent one. In these times, we can use our voice to call for accountability. Your outreach should include the police union and your local legislative office.
Reach out to the District Attorney’s office – this is a democracy people!
Signing petitions is also a very good way to support the movement. Here is a link to a tweet containing petitions to sign for the #blacklivesmatter movement:
Petitions take less than a minute to sign, if you have access to internet please spare a few minutes to sign petitions that will help put pressure on lawmakers and the judiciary to dismantle the injustices in this system.
Finally, decolonise – this is a very important step.
The pervasiveness of colonialism heavily influences our understanding and perception of the world. Understanding the impact of colonialism and how it has shaped the experiences of POC around you is essential. In a lot of communities, it had planted the seed that whiteness is something to aspire to – rejecting almost any idea that the existence of culture and communities outside of it. By upholding this ideal in any way, shape, or form, you are contributing to an anti-black agenda.
It is upon us (non-black people) to educate ourselves on the topic of racism – we have to, going forward, – take note of our mistakes and accept that when staying silent, we are contributing to a hideously unjust part of society.
Things cannot change until we take collective action against the current policing system and prisons. Since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the rise of the modern Black Lives Matter movement, we have continued to see many brutal murders at the hands of the police. On the ground, things may feel different, and change almost seems possible – but at the institutional level, almost nothing has happened. Intent does not equal impact. There must be a significant action taken by every single one of us to push towards a society where black people do not have to fear being murdered every day.
We each must commit to practice anti-racism actively and unlearn how we have been socialized thus far to move away from a white supremacist state.