The recent killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman in the United States of America, Derek Chauvin, has sparked a gale of global reaction in the form of race demonstrations that nobody foresaw coming, not since the Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Mohammed Ali, Malcom X and their counterparts in the 1950s and1960s.
On May 25, Chauvin, arrived to meet a police team that had arrested a cooperative Mr Floyd over complaints from a store keeper that he had paid for cigarettes with counterfeit money. But Chauvin arrived, pushed him to the ground with his hands cuffed, and knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring remonstrations from bystanders who pointed out that Floyd was not resisting arrest and that he was dying, and from Mr Floyd himself who begged Chauvin not to kill him. All pleas fell on deaf ears. Chauvin’s mates even joined In further pinning other parts of Floyd’s body to the ground. The video recorded by several onlookers, Mr Floyd called out to Mr Chauvin 16 times, to say he could not breathe, but the policeman would not budge, even when his captive became limp, until medics arrived nine minutes later. By that time, the blackman was no longer responsive.
As is usual with such fatal police brutality, the police department rushed out a false statement which indicated that Mr Floyd had resisted arrest and that in the process of restraining him, he suffered a heart attack due to underlying heart condition.
However, that report was quickly overturned when the video shots of the whole incident were uploaded on the internet.
Consequently, Chauvin and his three accomplices, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng, were summarily dismissed from the police, arrested and charged. The main suspect, Chauvin, was charged with second degree murder and second degree manslaughter, while the others were charged with aiding and abetting the crime.
But the sheer mindless brutality of the incident and waste of life depicted in the viral videos were too much to bear and soon ignited the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, a slogan and hashtag coined some seven years ago in the United States to draw attention to police abuses against African Americans.
Solidarity marches and gatherings took place from Sydney to Beirut to Istanbul to London to Berlin. At the latest count, protesters shouting many slogans and bearing different placards had been recorded in 75 US cities. Some of the protesters in US, London, France and Germany have attacked statues and monuments erected to immortalise those who may have abused blacks in centuries past. Protesters in Belgium called for the removal of statues of Leopold II, the genocidal conqueror of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the statue of British slave trader, Edward Colston in Bristol was brought down from its pedestal and cast into the nearby River Avon. Even the statues of Christopher Columbus were not spared, as they were decapitated and destroyed across the US. Some others have appropriated Floyd’s death to protest against unrelated problems in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in war-torn Syria.
This is not the first time that an African American has suffered brutality or been killed by police in the US. The Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King in 1991, the pumping of 41 bullets into an unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999 by four New York policemen, New York policeman’s fatal chokehold of Eric Garner in 2014 but none has evolved into such an international movement like Floyd’s, which is still unfolding.
Now a lot of questions are being asked about police training, funding, methods and reforms across many countries. And questions about powers and privileges enjoyed by whites in different walks of life vis a vis racism, oppression and deprivation of blacks and other peoples of colour are being asked in a way last seen during the time of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in the US. While Floyd reactions are still evolving, the closest such international movements of late are the ‘Me Too’ movement that shamed sexual predators in Hollywood and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring sparked by self immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouaziz protesting an act of oppression in 2010. The two movements took the scalp of many top men in the film industry, and brought down regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.
As a newspaper, we advocate that the Floyd incident will bring a change to police brutality and accountability, and engender more equal opportunities for all persons irrespective of skin colour.
We also call on the federal government to take advantage of the moment to carry out a comprehensive review of policing in Nigeria to check the brutality and extrajudicial killings that often characterise police operations, most of which are never reported. Policemen like Chauvin must be fished out everywhere they exist and punished severely to serve as deterrent to others.
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