“Please, I can’t breathe.” “My neck hurts.” “Everything hurts.” “Mamma! I am through!” “They are going to kill me.” These were ‘gentle giant’ George Floyd’s final words after his neck was fatally pinned for nine minutes under Minneapolis copper Derek Chauvin’s knee. He was arrested for passing a counterfeit dollar twenty bill to buy cigarettes when a grocery store worker informed police of a forgery in progress. His 25th May murder sparked spontaneous protests and near-apocalyptic mayhem across all the fifty States in USA.
Floyd’s case is the proverbial tipping point in what had been, for long, too many too frequent deaths and abuses of black Americans in police hands. Point blank gunshots, beatings, maimings, tasings and torture over tiniest of trifles – the average African American had endured it all. In public spaces, black brothers now fear to do a jig, don a hoodie, wear shaggy pants, use the camera or even drop a jaw without being hassled and handcuffed by cops. African Americans constitute roughly 13 percent of the US population but are thrice as likely to be killed in a police shooting than white Americans. So now, the adrenaline vehemence of these protests testify to that long simmering angst of stoic Americans, mostly blacks and minorities, suffering daily and ignominiously in the hands of its police. Police belligerence in the USA and their overt contempt for blacks now peeve even the most right leaning white American. It is a police force increasingly acting with a sense of remorseless abandon and insulated impunity.
America has an entrenched legacy of historic oppression, inheritance disparities and sporadic prejudice against people of colour. An incident of epochal proportions, the riot-ridden protests typify both the beautiful and the brutal undercurrents of American life in a post-global world. Like many spontaneous movements triggered suddenly with pent-up rage, the sacred got quickly sullied with the shambolic. Black Lives Matter is diluted with shouts of White Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Agent provocateurs and Antifa lone wolves sneaked in, with false flag designs of destruction and distortion to waylay the genuine narrative. Pink-slipped and on welfare checks, many others resorted to vandalism in acts of spiteful violence to loot luxuries they cannot afford. The ensuing anarchy and Trump tweeting “…when the looting starts, the shooting starts” is enough to make George Floyd rolling in his grave too.
Saner senses are overwhelming though and white Americans have shown unflinching solidarity with their black compatriots. While many black cops smart an existential and professional dilemma, National Guards deployed on Trump’s orders have shown much restraint and identify keenly with the protest people. Reserves as they are, once outside their green uniforms, they have equal disdain for police arrogance. Meanwhile, clarion calls against police brutality and racism ranges from the obvious to the absurd, including demands to defund and deculture the American police. The so called ‘authoritarian liberals’ have called for ending movies and TV shows that eulogize American cops. In a historic move, a veto-proof Minneapolis City Council majority even announced plans to disband what it termed the ‘toxic’ police department.
Defiance of systemic brutality is an innate human sentiment. Aided by social media in an observant world, “I Can’t Breathe” protests have spread far beyond American shores, reaching every continent except ice-capped Antarctica. The ‘knee-on-neck’ is a classic Israeli army technique merrily employed in restraining hapless, innocent Palestinians. American law-enforcement agents who are their first cousins later imbibed it through joint training exercises. While emotions run high, emulations are hastened, and as India’s first, an inspired Jodhpur constable recently knee-pinned a man for not wearing a mask.
Irrespective of political affiliations, selective amnesia in diplomacy and international relations is one holy speciality of the Washington elite. Since distant memory, the US has painstakingly preached the gospels of democracy and liberty, often backing it with cruise missiles and crippling sanctions. Morally burdened to ensure a free world, it will poke its nose anywhere and engineer ‘regime change’, ‘colour revolutions’ and ‘humanitarian interventions’. Excepting the Anglo-Saxon world and Western Europe, America has no permanent friends or perpetual foes.
Choking communist Cuba, insinuating Ayatollah’s Iran, demolishing Iraq and Libya over unyielding tyrants in Saddam and Gaddafi, or simply veering away from Saudi excesses in Yemen – there’s no dearth of anecdotes in the missionary reel of American exceptionalism. Wherever it smells palpable profits and strategic benefits, its humanist wings unfold, to coax or coerce the supplanting of its holy liberal values. It will fund, brainwash, instigate and assist any unknown, infernal, west bending liberal from anywhere. Best instances are of supporting the single-staff-single-man Syrian Observatory for Human Rights headquartered in Coventry, United Kingdom or the controversial White Helmets in Syria. Quite recently, the Hong Kong protests stirred the angelic souls of US lawmakers. Ever critical and unsparing of China since its Tiananmen Square days, Trump triumphantly signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, 2019.
Typical of a Machiavellian empire, America’s nuisance is in its conspicuous hypocrisy, of not practicing at home what it sermonizes abroad. As a republic that decimated its natives, kindling upheaval in nations of its choice is one long established ‘normal’. So when the George Floyd protests started burning, many tables started turning. Echoing Trump’s own words with genteel sarcasm, Abbas Mousavi, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman issued a fitting statement that said, “To the American people, the world has heard your outcry over the State oppression; the world is standing with you.”
Police brutality and racism in the US are complex and embedded issues, if not inexorable. Undoing and healing it will demand sincere, protracted and holistic effort from all Americans. Militarization of its police departments may have several causes; the Second Amendment which induced lenient gun laws, high rates of petty crimes and misdemeanours, expensive drug wars etc. But for once, since the civil rights movement of the sixties, the character of the current protests illuminates the unmistakable underpinnings of a superpower democracy in internal distress. The casual cold-bloodedness and unsettling routineness of George’s murder bring to life Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s harrowing imageries of Black sufferings in White America. For now, racial equality and the pursuit of happiness, at least for coloured people, is an elusive American dream – a dream envisioned and championed by its stalwart statesmen including Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. The imperative is now on President Donald Trump to ‘Make America Great Again’.
The writer teaches Political Science at Oriental College (Autonomous), Imphal, and can be reached at [email protected]