Cw. discussion of murder, racism, police brutality
Minneapolis burns. It burns as a result of very real fires – both literal and figurative. There are riots and looters burning property down, some looting the resulting shells of buildings. There is an enormous swelling of protesters angry at the police, angry at the justice system, and angry at the undeniable institutional racism that exists in America.
Peaceful protests (such as the actions taken by Colin Kaepernick and other athletes, or Black Lives Matter) were criticised for being un-American, for being radical, for being just ‘whiny liberal snowflakes’. They did not work. No movement was made to even recognise the systemic issues minorities face, let alone address them in any meaningful way. Systemic issues like over-policing and mass incarceration, as well as voter suppression to ensure that black voters remain disenfranchised and ostracised from participating in governance en masse. And now, in a time of moral failure by the Republicans regarding COVID-19, where they have made it all-too-clear that people don’t matter so long as the wealthy get more so, people are in a heightened state of anxiety, frustration, and anger.
Then, on 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis, almost six years after an eerily and frustratingly similar incident, a black man screams that he cannot breathe, and cries out for his deceased mother. George Floyd is murdered – on camera in broad daylight, with one police officer executing the act while three others watch on, fully complicit in the horrifying act. George Floyd is lynched.
George Floyd’s death triggered a level of civil disobedience unseen for decades. Why George Floyd? Why not Ahmaud Arbery, another victim of rampant racism, lynched by two angry white men in Glynn County, Georgia? Or Breonna Taylor, murdered in the middle of the night in her own home, during a failed and incorrect drug bust? Or any of the other countless black individuals who have been murdered or left unprotected by the very institutions claiming to protect them? Several local factors contributed: the sheer length and intensity of the documented murder of Floyd, the casual abuse of power by one policeman, the indifference of several others, the density of Minneapolis. From the national level, the confluence of COVID-19 anxieties, Trump’s rhetoric and actions, along with the growing inequality caused by the racially biased institutions governing America, further created a perfect storm for the Minneapolis riots.
It took four days before any criminal action was taken against any of the four police. Omar Jimenez, a black reporter for CNN, was arrested with his camera crew before any of the offending police officers were. Reporters have been shot with mace bullets and beaten, with police knowing full well that these individuals are members of the press. Protestors have rightly erupted with a fury and indignation that has been fuelled by centuries of injustice, growing white supremacist rhetoric, and inadequate placations by moderate Democrats.
Influential figures in the black community have stood up and shown solidarity with the Minneapolis protests. Killer Mike, half of the rap duo Run The Jewels, and an outstandingly brilliant activist for the black community, went on live air to redirect the rising rage of Atlanta. As he wept at the constant injustices perpetuated on black people, he urged citizens to “plot, plan, strategise, organise, and mobilise”. Dr Cornel West, Harvard Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy and life-long social activist, eloquently and succinctly summarised the contemporary zeitgeist in a short interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN. As Dr West puts it, “we are witnessing America as a failed social experiment”.
Yet at the same time, you have Trump quoting a Southern sheriff from 1967 with the disgusting line of “when the looting starts the shooting starts”, and using the thinly disguised racist term of “thugs” to refer to those rioting. Other Republicans such as Jim Jordan have similarly chosen to continue to inflame white supremacy with their racist stances on the riots, insisting on “law and order” for any protests related to police brutality, while whole-heartedly joining the minute chorus of predominately white voices wishing to “reopen America”. The racial bias in police response to these two types of protests is also telling.
The protestors are angry. They are confused. They are scared. The institutions designed to protect them are silencing them, are killing their brothers, their sisters, their friends. Riots are a result of these very real and frustrated feelings and the lack of progress that has been made. Riots are as old as history and are a mechanism for the powerless to voice their righteous anger. Blaming looters for taking goods which are not rightfully theirs offers a nice scapegoat for the far-right and for the capitalist, fear-exploiting slant of corporate news. But this focus on looting is detracting from the real point – the riots are a symptom and an expression of the aforementioned uncertainty and anger.
The protestors are fighting for their rights and have an enormous pool of courage and moral fortitude to stand up for what is just and what is moral, especially against enormously powerful and ingrained institutions. They may or may not know what will happen next. They may or may not know what changes they exactly want to enact to reform the governing political institutions. But, like many, they know one thing – the system as it stands currently is broken and does not work for them.