The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday 25th May when police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes despite the presence of a watching crowd, a number of other officers who did nothing to stop him and Floyd pleading with Chauvin and saying “I can’t breathe.”
(i) George Floyd was a 46 year old father of a six year old girl.
(ii) His killer Derek Chauvin worked as a police officer for 19 years.
(iii) Floyd and Chauvin had both worked as bouncers at a local nightclub and therefore knew each other.
(iv) Floyd’s words echoed those of Eric Garner who died at the hands of New York Police in 2014.
(i) Protests including the burning down of the main police station in Minneapolis.
(ii) Reigniting of protests similar to those that led to the establishment of Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Trump’s response on Twitter:
These THUGS are dishonouring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!
2. ISSUES & ARGUMENT
Floyd’s death highlights yet again the disproportionate deaths of BAME people at the hands of the police and more generally the brutal treatment experienced by BAME communities.
Around 1 in 1,000 “black” men and boys can expect to die at the hands of the police in the US.
They are 2.5 times more likely to die in such an encounter than their white counterparts.
The brutal treatment of BAME communities is nothing new. Instead it has been a constant feature of US history consider for example:
- The violence of slavery – America’s original sin
- The treatment of Civil Rights Movement (CRM) protesters in the 1950s and 60s
- The beating of Rodney King in 1991 which sparked the LA riots of the following summer when the officer responsible was acquitted of all charges.
This violence is not simply accidental or the result of just a handful of bad cops. The police are the frontline of a state established and dominated by a ruling class that relies upon the state’s monopoly on the “legal” use of violence, to discipline the masses and divide working class people of all backgrounds in order to preserve their power and privilege.
We stand in solidarity because we are internationalists. The people both dying and protesting are our sisters and brothers.
But we also protest because we see disproportionate deaths of BAME people in custody or after contact with a police officer in this country. Consider for example:
David Oluwale – Leeds, 1969
Cynthia Jarrett – Tottenham, 1985
Joy Gardner – Crouch End,1993
Christopher Alder – Hull, 1998
Sean Rigg – Brixton, 2008
Mark Duggan – Tottenham, 2011
More broadly we see the disproportionate criminalisation of BAME people, consider for example the recent tasering in Manchester of Desmond Ziggy Mombeyarara.
More generally BAME lives are treated as cheap and expendable. Hence during the current pandemic BAME people are disproportionately exposed, becoming critically ill and dying.
3. WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Understandable and we defend the right of people to fight back by any means necessary. Martin Luther King Jr rightly described riots as “the voice of the unheard”.
But riots can’t solve the problem; at best they provide temporary liberation and exhilaration before the state regroups and usually takes revenge.
We support the fight for reforms as they can and do make a difference to people’s lives but they are not enough and can be rolled back.
Consider the US itself where the CRM was a heroic struggle which led to civil rights and voting rights legislation. In its aftermath there was a great focus on electing Black and ethnic minority leader – “getting “black faces in high places”. The culmination of this was the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
What did Obama’s eight years in office really achieve? In response to Floyd’s death, Obama has said that institutional racism should not be “normal” in 2020 and has called for Americans to “come together to heal the legacy of bigotry.”
Yet, BLM was established during Obama’s presidency precisely because he failed to deliver on the hopes invested in him.
Across America black police chiefs and mayors preside over racist police departments and declining inner cities. In a changed from the past there is now a deep class divide in the black community.
The black middle class in the US has pulled up the advancement ladder behind them and left the black working class high and dry.
This explains Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta’s rant against “rioters”. This explains Muriel Bowser’s nice gestures with paint and road renaming while voting to increase the police budget.
Sadly the black middle class and the US Congressional Black Caucus are guilty, unwittingly or otherwise, of helping to pave the way for the mass incarceration of black men in the US.
Although just 12% of the overall population, black people make up 40% of the jail population in the US. Police killings are the tip of an iceberg of racial injustice.
The attached table shows the killings year on year highlights this:
(iii) Armed resistance?
Neither can we prioritise as an alternative fighting fire with fire in the way in which the Black Panthers tried, however courageously. Ultimately the state has access to more firepower. This was one of the main reasons why the Panthers were wiped out.
WHY WE NEED A REVOLUTION
Racism cannot simply be reformed away because its use as a means of divide and rule is an essential feature of capitalism.
BAME people are the victims of racism and suffer disproportionately but are not exclusively affected by police harassment oppression and exploitation.
Working class people from all backgrounds have a common interest in uniting to fight those that oppress and exploit us.
The current crisis has shown who the key workers really are. We can and must harness our collective power to overthrow this system and create a better world.