Updated: Jul 3
This article will be the first of three to cover the murder of George Floyd, the protests that followed, the political response and international reaction to the events. This article will look at the murder itself and the recent history of police brutality in the United States.
In 1865, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment saw an end to the formal system of slavery in the United States; no more could a black man be owned by a white man. However, many of America's institutions, laws and attitudes have continued to hang over American citizens of colour for generations. Today, we are witnessing the culmination of the oppression faced by America's black community in the George Floyd protests.
The United States is not a country that enjoys football (soccer), but its recent policy against massive social issues has been to kick the can down the road. Think, previous iterations of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, think school shootings and gun control, think prison industrial complex, think LGBT-rights, think #MeToo; the US government, and the establishment in both of the United States’ big parties, are unwilling to move for a drastic change or even necessary change.
At the time of writing, it has been one week since the murder of George Floyd, committed by police officer Derek Chauvin, as he knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes as Floyd’s ability to breathe was increasingly stifled. Footage of the murder was caught on camera, which shows Floyd begging the officer to remove his leg from Floyd’s neck, pleading that he cannot breathe, crying out for his deceased mother. The video makes for awful viewing.
The issue is though, that George Floyd is not the first black man, or black person, to be taken before his time by police officers. Floyd, like so many who came before him in this shameful list of deaths, was not a violent offender, he was accused of having attempted to pay for items with a counterfeit $20 bill. This was a murder by a man intent on using unjust and unnecessary violence on an accused citizen because of the colour of his skin.
Police brutality in the United States is a major issue, both historical and contemporary. From the Civil Rights movement to the Anti-War demonstrations of the 1960s and 70s, to the modern-day, protest and activism in the United States is invariably met with heavy police response, regardless of whether or not it was called for.
The years following 9/11 also saw an increase in police brutality. A report detailing this increase in police brutality given to the UN’s Human Rights Committee, this analysis of the situation was given: “It [the ‘War on Terror’] has created a climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, and contributed to the erosion of what few accountability mechanisms exist”. The report then concludes by saying: “As a result, police brutality and abuse persist unabated and undeterred across the country”.
Unfortunately, those accountability mechanisms have yet to be restored. Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s killer, had 17 complaints filed against him during his 19-year career in ‘law enforcement’. Of those, 2 resulted in formal reprimands, all others were dismissed. Testimony from other officers’ states that they have seen him “lose it” before.
However, we would be missing the entire point if we were to assume that Chauvin was just one ‘bad apple’ in an otherwise ripe orchard. Chauvin’s murder of Floyd is just the latest in a long line of murders by police in the US; a line that proves a systematic link.
I refer back to the previous quotation from the UN Human Rights report, which detailed a breakdown in accountability. When a system lets down its people so many times, especially a law enforcement body, the people are going to protest. When complaints made through the correct and proper channels are dismissed, when something like this happens on camera, for the world to see, people get angry.
It took several days for Chauvin to be arrested, in which time a black reporter for CNN was arrested live on air for covering the riots. Furthermore, only Chauvin, it appears, will be charged with any crimes, the other officers, at present, are yet to have charged brought against them. When they say that Lady Justice is blind, know that really, she isn’t – that really, she sees what she needs to see to imprison some and lets others walk free.
Indeed, a report from 2013, outlining the racial disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System shows that Black Americans are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than White Americans, and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic Americans. That is, Black Americans are more likely to be arrested and charged and convicted, and even then, they are more likely to face harsher sentences than other races. Lady Justice is certainly not blind.
To round up this first piece on the George Floyd Protests, it is clear that systematic racism is prevalent in both US police forces and the US Criminal Justice System. Despite desegregation taking place over 50 years ago, there are still walls present in American society separating blacks and whites, and while they may be less obvious, less clear to the casual observer, they still exist. When those who enforce the laws on behalf of the people, serve one section of those people to a different extent they do another, those left behind, victimised and oppressed are liable to rebel against that oppression; that is what we are seeing today.
The President of the United States is now trying to end the protests, but as precedent dictates, he is only trying to kick the can down the road. By not addressing the systematic problems that brought about these protests, he will not solve them, he will only paper over the cracks. Although, papering over the cracks seems to be this Presidents speciality, so I suspect that is what he will do.