Kate Byng-Hall investigates the cause of the civil unrest spreading across america and takes a closer look at some key factors.
Photo by Clay Banks
On Monday 25th May, 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota after a police officer knelt on his neck, suffocating him. The incident was recorded by an onlooker and has been viewed millions of times.
Derek Chauvin, 44, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds after he was detained for allegedly paying for cigarettes using a forged $20 bill. After 6 minutes, Floyd became unresponsive, but Chauvin did not move his knee despite fellow officers being unable to find Floyd’s pulse. He was taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead an hour later.
Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday, four days after the incident, but many have criticised the charge’s leniency as Floyd can be clearly heard saying “I can’t breathe” and “don’t kill me” while he was being restrained. Three other officers present during the arrest are awaiting charges.
Chauvin has eighteen previous complaints made against him with the Minneapolis Police Department's Internal Affairs, while Tou Thao, another officer present, has received six complaints, and was part of an ‘excessive force’ lawsuit in 2017 after he arrested a man, despite having no reason to, and proceeded to beat him. Both officers were permitted to continue serving despite their previous misdemeanours.
This murder of a black man at the hands of a white police officer has led to widespread outrage as yet another addition to a long list of instances in which African-American men have been systematically exposed to more extreme police brutality and infringements on their human rights than their white counterparts.
The response to this police violence has escalated from peaceful protests to dangerous and destructive rioting in more than thirty states across America.
“The way he died was senseless. He begged for his life. He pleaded for his life. When you try so hard to put faith in this system, a system that you know isn't designed for you, when you constantly seek justice by lawful means and you can't get it, you begin to take the law into your own hands”
– Christopher Harris, a friend of Floyd’s
Curfews have been implemented in several areas to avoid unrest, including a Los Angeles curfew of 8pm to 5:30am, and beginning as early as 5pm in Seattle. However, these restrictions have been widely disregarded, with protesters taking to the streets in fury.
Across the country, shops have been looted, police cars have been set alight, and buildings have been vandalised and set ablaze. Twenty police vehicles were burned in one night of rioting in New York.
The National Guard, the US’s primary reserve military force, has been enlisted to protect the White House and assist the police in eleven states so far.
The President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy has provoked even more uproar. He initially offered condolences after Floyd’s death, but was quick to condemn protestors against his murder as “thugs”.
He went on to threaten rioters with violence in a tweet which states that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Twitter chose to censor the post as it incites violence, the latest source of friction between the President and the social media platform.
Trump has also confirmed that the American Army is on standby to take to the streets to quell violence if necessary, a fact which has proved to aggravate protesters.
Black Lives Matter
George Floyd’s appalling murder has led to an outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which was founded in 2013 after a policeman was acquitted for the shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
Donations have also flooded in from around the world to various organisations supporting African Americans and civil rights organisations, as well as the Memorial Fund for Floyd’s family.
An online petition calling for a just sentencing of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death has collected almost nine million signatures.
This has been a wake-up call for many of us, exposing just how blatant and alarming police brutality against black people in America still is. It’s now up to us, people of all races and nationalities, to educate ourselves on what we can do to support ethnic minorities and oppose systematic racism wherever we can.
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