Originally, this essay was going to be about how our language reinforces the delusion of white superiority in white Eurocentric cultures, and while that is an issue to address, recent events overshadow the subject. Let us talk about George Floyd, racism, police brutality and how the media are so adept at victim blaming. When the American police make a habit out of killing Black Americans and evading justice, it is a genocide. They are acts of terrorism by state sanctioned and employed white supremacists, upheld by a white supremacist system; political acts to subjugate, oppress and induce fear in Black communities. Essentially, these killings are not even as simple as murder, they are assassinations. Not only do they spark anger and distress, they further divide the Black and white communities in a country that continues to segregate under the illusion of integration.
Footage of the deaths of Eric Garner and Philando Castille as well as countless others among the thousands that have been killed have been viewed the world over; vicious acts of brutality accompanied by the jeering of the officers involved. They are loud, cacophonous incidents narrated by the killers to manufacture a narrative: “stop resisting” “don’t pull out the gun” “comply” – barked orders with which many of the victims have no hope of complying. How exactly can a handcuffed person pinned to the ground be resisting? How does a person being tasered comply with commands, and yelling don’t pull your gun while emptying a magazine in to the chest of a man that is legally carrying a weapon and disclosing such, in front of his partner and infant child, make the demand utterly void. They are loud, frantic, quick scenes. Body and dash camera footage show the officers making such demands and acting out scenes that will support their manufactured narratives when the inevitable internal investigation is carried out, while the officers lounge about on extended paid holidays and the characters of the deceased are assassinated for a second time by the media as any minor infraction from the past is raked across media outlets, in order to criminalise the victim in the minds of the public.
Naturally, Black activists will take to the streets, but are condemned by white America because the police were “just doing their jobs” and they “don’t know what it is like to face armed criminals day in day out, to make split second decisions to protect themselves and the public,” or because the protesters block the streets and are an inconvenience. So many people buy into those stories, and white supremacists on social media make excuses for the police killing the victims in many cases, for petty crimes that never make it to a jury of their peers.
Initially I avoided watching the footage of George Floyd, placing my own needs above that of the cause. I’ve wept buckets over such footage, but how dare I spare my own distress and tears while millions of Black Americans cannot escape the reality of this brutality. Who do I think I am sparing my own feelings, when those who are directly affected by such atrocities have no such choice? More than that, how can I even conceive of keeping dialogue going with white people without the full details? Somehow, I made the big mistake I tell other white people not to do all the time; I centred myself and my needs in a situation that is absolutely not about me. Wrongly I assumed that the footage would be like the others; this time however was different. There was no faked hysteria from the officers, no feigned fear for life and no performance to set up a narrative. It was brazened. The only raised voices came from the witnesses desperately appealing for Mr Floyd’s life, appealing to a humanity that Chauvin clearly did not have. It was slow, methodical, chilling in its brutality. The lack of concern, from all the Law Enforcement present, that their murderous act was caught on camera is took on the grotesque exhibitionism of a lynching. Even as Mr Floyd became motionless, Chauvin didn’t take his knee off of Mr Floyd’s neck, not even as the paramedic tried to check for his pulse. As if to add insult to injury, the officers and paramedics unceremoniously dragged his lifeless body onto the stretcher, still handcuffed, as though this was not a person who less than ten minutes prior, was previously pleading for his life and calling out for his deceased mother. The trauma did not end there. The media had to criminalise the deceased Mr. Floyd, describing his “crime” as forgery. The man passed a fake $20 bill. There was absolutely no evidence he was even aware the note was not genuine, and for that he had the life choked out of him.
Understandably the community is angry. Wouldn’t you be, if the life of someone in your community was extinguished and in such a horrific fashion? As is a constitutional right in the United States of America, again, protesters took to the streets as the four officers involved lost their job but maintained their freedom. Initially the protest was peaceful and nonviolent, but the police, not content with having killed Mr Floyd, turned tear gas and rubber bullets on the peaceful protesters. The protests naturally became more forceful and descended into rioting, which as Martin Luther King Jr himself stated, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Black voices in America are routinely unheard. Is justice really such an extreme idea? Expectedly, the media very quickly turned on a grieving and angry Black community, with the usual trope of Black criminality. The white Americans who hours before had been unusually horrified at the white supremacist violence of the police turned on a traumatized community questioning why they have to riot and loot, while conveniently failing to acknowledge the footage of white Americans weighed down by stolen stock from Minneapolis stores picked clean in the carnage. To these people I ask what they want from the traumatized? For over 400 years Black Americans have been abused, subjugated, and oppressed. When they protest peacefully it’s wrong. When they protest violently it’s wrong.
NFL stars led by Colin Kaepernick chose to genuflect for the national anthem as a peaceful protest against police brutality, and it was deemed disrespectful, despite the posture being one of immense reverence. When they peacefully protest in the street, people complain about the disruption to traffic or the police push and provoke until they encounter the violence equal to that bestowed upon them. How exactly are Black Americans supposed to achieve justice and equality in a land their ancestors were forced to build, where they do not enjoy equal status? That is the point. They are not supposed to in the eyes of those that hold the power.
One of the four now former officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s harrowing murder, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with 3rd degree murder and manslaughter, but the other three remain free. This does not guarantee that in a court of law justice will be served, especially if the media continue to criminalise Mr Floyd. Previous cases have not set an encouraging precedent in such circumstances and officials were incredibly slow in bringing any charges at all.
It is so easy in the 21st Century, with all the current affairs streaming instantly into our pockets, for cases such as this one to lose its social relevance outside of those directly affected. After all we are in the midst of a deadly global pandemic and presidential campaign season. Our focus is so quickly drawn to some other situation, which is so convenient for a system that doesn’t actually want to punish its officials for their deadly white supremacy. Mr Floyd will stay in the minds of the Minneapolis and wider Black American communities long after he is no longer trending of social media and the rioting has stopped, the burnt out buildings repaired, and the looted stores restocked. However, it is up to us, those of us who support our Black friends in their struggle to keep cases like this fresh in the minds of white people.