It is a grim testament to the inescapable nature of institutional racism that viral videos of unarmed African Americans being killed by white police officers have become tragically commonplace. Yet even within this depraved normality, the video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police has understandably provoked a wave of revulsion, anger and revolt amongst African, Asian and minority ethnic communities across the world.
The footage shows Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police department who had 18 prior complaints filed against him including two previous shootings, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as he pleaded for his life. Floyd was handcuffed, and clearly posed no threat. His crime? Allegedly, cashing a bad cheque for the value of $20.
“I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s chilling last words have become a slogan of the civil uprising which has followed his murder. What makes this even more tragic, is that these exact words were the last spoken by Eric Garner, another unarmed African-American murdered by the police after being accused of selling unlicensed cigarettes.
The petty nature of these alleged wrongdoings bare examining. While gun-toting white supremacist terrorists such as Dylan Roof and Patrick Crusius are peacefully arrested after their racially-motivated murderous rampages, unarmed African Americans are murdered by supposed protectors of the peace for the most minor infringements.
To add to the injustice, police officers that kill civilians are often simply fired (at most, many remain on the force) and do not face the criminal charges which would await any other member of our society. Chauvin and his accomplices have so far been sacked by Minneapolis police, but it remains to be seen if a thorough murder investigation will occur.
Campaign Zero, a social justice organisation that maps police violence across the US, found that Minneapolis police kill black residents at a rate more than 13 times higher that of white people. A 2019 study found that 1 in 1,000 Black American men and boys can expect to die as a result of police violence over the course of their lives – a risk that is 2.5 times higher than their white peers, and which puts police use of force in the top ten causes of death for black men in their mid to late twenties.
Unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump – who has a long history of racist comments – weighed in with incendiary remarks that have rightly been concealed on Twitter for glorifying violence. The President warned protestors in Minneapolis that he would send the military to intervene if there was “any difficulty.” “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote, apparently quoting former Miami police chief Walter Headley, who in December 1967 promised violent reprisals on Black protestors.
Sadly, this comes as no surprise. This is a President who hires white supremacists and praises armed, predominantly white right-wing protests against coronavirus safety-measures, yet gleefully condemns the social outpouring of anger and grief against racist police brutality. The UK government must condemn him if they are serious about standing up to racism of all kinds, wherever it appears in the world.
Many people from across the political divide have sought to disregard the uprising in Minneapolis as unprovoked rioting. Yet this does not recognise the fact that America has been built on the slavery, dispossession and subjugation of its African American population. It is crucial to understand the Minneapolis uprising in the context of the centuries of social deprivation and economic extraction that have been endured by African Americans.
We must stand in solidarity with the family, friends and community of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We in the UK cannot ignore yet another death of an unarmed Black man in police custody.
It is also crucial that we in the UK do not assume we are immune from the disease of institutional racism. African, Asian and minority ethnic communities disproportionately suffer from police use of force in the UK, are over-represented in the prison population and are more likely to be sent to prison than white offenders.
According to Inquest, there have been 1,741 deaths following contact with the police in England and Wales since 1990 – with African, Asian and minority ethnic communities disproportionately impacted. The Runnymede Trust found that, between 1995 and 2015, not a single police officer was ever prosecuted over a Black death in custody. As in America, it appears the police can act with impunity as they rarely face criminal prosecutions.
Our government must take this opportunity to reassess the racial disparities in our own criminal justice system. Now is the time to end the severe class and racial inequalities which exist across the world.