The United States has been hit by six days of protests against police brutality, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer on 25th May 2020.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in police custody after a white officer handcuffed him and knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe. Floyd became motionless, Chauvin continued to kneel on him, all while on video.
The police officer Derek Chauvin, has since been fired has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin had a previous 18 internal complaints, with two of the complaints “closed with discipline”, according to the police summary.
The other officer present in the social media video, Tou Thao, had six complaints filed against him according to internal affairs. Five were closed without complaint, and one remains open. In 2017, Mr Thao settled out of court in an excessive use of force case.
Protests have continued across US cities, including Minneapolis, Denver, New York and Oakland. Sunday, May 31st protestors took to the street in London in solidarity.
“A riot is the language of the unheard”
Martin Luther King uttered the words “A riot is the language of the unheard” in 1967. More than 50 years later, the US government has failed to hear the cries of freedom. The black community has been a powder keg waiting to explode and another case of police brutality is what has set the match alight.
Donald Trump spoke out about the riots and Twitter deleted his post for violating the platform’s rules about glorifying violence.
Trump has since signed an executive order to regular social media companies, to prevent a “threat to free speech.”
He continued: “We have individuals who are hijacking legitimate outrage over systemic issues of race in our society…to engage in violence for their own purposes.”
If there are people using the riots as tools for their own selfish reasons they need to be rooted out. Yet the truth of these statements are unseen. Attributing any problems to outside radical agents is easier politically, brushing over the genuine issues at the core of events.
The riots are justifiable, as a way to be heard in a system of capitalism that relies on mass consumption. The problem lies in its all-consuming nature. Though to create change disobedience must be outside of norms, organised chaos must be engineered to carefully disturb the economics of America to protest against injustice. The black American spending power of over $1 trillion dollars means this represents major leverage.
Origins of the American Police Force
The preconceived idea of American police ranges from 1) A county sheriff managing debts between neighbours, 2) a constable on horseback serving an arrest warrant or 3) watchman carrying a lantern through his sleeping town ensuring peace is maintained.
These practices were adapted to the colonies from England, in turn, forming the foundation of American law enforcement at a time when black people were understood only as property, not individuals with free will.
The American South relied nearly entirely and exclusively on slave labour. White Southerners lived in near-constant fear of slave rebellions and their economic/social consequences. Their ‘slave patrols’ were designed to control the movements, discipline slaves and visibly enforce violent white supremacy against black men.
Can a system with unjust, immoral and unethical foundations also serve the betterment of the black community? The evidence previously and currently suggests not.
Police and the black community have a turbulent relationship and increased militarization, surveillance and continuing deaths at the hand of the police add fuel to the ever-increasing fire. The shouts of “I can’t breathe” are being heard over and over again.
The UK is not innocent
Often the UK believes itself to be better than America, Stephen Lawrence & Mark Duggan are staunch reminders of the issues in the UK, between black people and the police. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by Metropolitan police in 2011 in North London was explained due to him being in possession of a handgun. However, his 2014 inquest found he was not holding a weapon at all. His death sparked riots similar to that of George Floyd.
A report by charity Inquest studying deaths in custody showed over 1,500 people have died in, or following, police custody in the UK since 1990. A different report from The Institute of Race Relations shows that 509 black and minority ethnic individuals died in prison, detention centres or after contact with police.
Inquests into these deaths in 2018-19 have highlighted delays and failures in the police recognising and responding promptly to medical emergencies. Substance abuse and mental ill-health are a prominent feature, further demonstrating a failure to implement adequate precautions from previous deaths.
Audre Lorde said “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” Perhaps it is time we built our own house.
As a people, we can not heal in the same environment that made us sick as institutions across America are permeated and built on white supremacy. The police rebuilding their relationship with the black community is only part of what is needed. To create an organisation that protects, serves and encourages black people to thrive needs dire systematic reform that reaches far beyond the police.