How did it all start?
A grocery store employee in Minneapolis called police to report that a customer, later identified as George Floyd, an African American who worked as a bouncer, had tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes. When the police arrived, Floyd was taken into custody and handcuffed. Minutes later, Floyd, who was unarmed, was dead pinned to the ground by a white police officer who was kneeling on his neck. His death was captured in a cell phone video that went viral, leading to widespread protests in many American cities.
Floyd was just a suspect, yet he ended up dead. For $20 and the allegation that he was paying a counterfeit denomination, he lost his life.
Floyd is not the first African American to die in the hands of the police. He is one of many. More often than not, justice has been denied to many of the victims. Police brutality, mostly experienced by people of color especially African Americans, is clearly a manifestation of systemic racism and looms large in the United States since the colonial era.
For decades, the number of police killings in the US disproportionately affects African Americans, despite only making up 14 per cent of the US population (2010 US Census).
The death of Floyd triggered something I never expected. His death has taken on a different energy most especially in the African American community. People are really angry and frustrated. They don’t want to be silent anymore. They demand to be heard. They demand police reforms. They want peace, but not without justice. As basketball legend Michael Jordan put it, “We have had enough.”
The outbreak of protests that has gripped major cities in the US, now in its ninth day and counting, is significantly different. It is more intense and widespread than the protests that took place after the beating of Rodney King in 1992.
Nearly 30 years after the beating of King, nothing seems to have changed in the way African Americans are treated by the police. This has caused outrage around the country and this time African Americans are more determined to have their legitimate cry for police accountability, fairness, and justice be heard.
The death of Floyd has finally made the African American community realize that they cannot take it anymore. Like a powder keg, whatever it is that is holding them from letting their voices heard has finally exploded. But there is a twist. It’s no longer just the death of Floyd that they are protesting against, but police violence that has victimized all people of color for years.
In protest actions, there will always be bad apples. The spontaneity and the lack of centralized leadership to guide the protesters make them easily infiltrated by any groups or individuals with duplicitous intent. There are those who will take advantage of the situation for many reasons. But the call for justice and end to police brutality is so strong and loud that it has been enthusiastically answered by people from all ethnic backgrounds, in spite of the vandalism that gives legitimate and peaceful protesters a bad rap.
I don’t condone the smashing of windows, the looting, and the burning of buildings. The police should arrest and prosecute all troublemakers. But blaming protesters who want to air their grievances against a government that has neglected them for many years is to miss the forest for the trees. The deaths of many African Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor in Louisville (2020), Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia (2020), Eric Garner in New York (2014), Antwon Rose, Jr in Pittsburgh (2018), to mention a few, will be in vain if public attention shifts to the looters rather than on the pressing issue of police brutality, police accountability, and justice.
Will the current administration listen to the anger and demands of the protesters? I really hope so because the alternative is civil disorder, probably worse than what we are seeing now. But the bellicose rhetoric coming from President Trump is not helping the situation. His tweets are inflammatory like the “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He calls protesters “thugs” and asks the governors to get tough. Instead of assuring protesters that he will do everything to curb police brutality, he is advocating for a strong police to “dominate” the protesters. Without any evidence, he blames the Democrats for the unrest, and dismisses the demonstrators as “professionally managed,” describing them as “a lot of radical-left bad people.” His solution, instead of calling for calmness and unity, has been to push for a stronger police crackdown and a bigger military presence.
Trump’s approach tells me that he does not understand how ingrained police brutality is in our community. He does not understand what the current demonstrations are all about. He does not understand the issue of race and how racism has deeply and painfully affected many people of color. He does not understand history.
Trump holding a bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op is not the answer. He looked so pathetic, insincere, and superficial. It was a political stunt that will just inflame more anger and protests.
Commenting on the importance of the current protests, Kareem Abdul-Jabar wrote in an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, “What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge… because they want to live. To breathe.”
George Floyd should not die in vain. His legacy should live on.
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