Another chapter in the long history of a society whose self-image sometimes hides its more contemptible reality is the outbreak of rage, crime, rioting, curfews, and violent police crackdowns in the aftermath of George Floyd’s suffocation by Minneapolis police.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American, died on Monday in Minneapolis while being taken back by officers. The video footage shows a cop kneeling over Floyd’s neck as he was gasping for air. Four police officers have since been dismissed and the Federal Investigation Bureau (FBI) has been called in to launch a criminal civil rights probe. Derek Chauvin, the cop who tied him to the ground, was charged with third-degree murder.
Death has caused violent protests in Minneapolis, leading to the declaration of a state of peacetime emergency in the state of Minnesota as well as the deployment of the National Guard. There have also been marches in other areas of the US, including California, New Jersey, Ohio, and Colorado.
The incident again sparked questions about the racism of law enforcement toward the African American minority, describing Floyd’s death as the latest example of racially-driven violence by the police.
George Floyd’s Death
Floyd, a native of Minnesota, was arrested on Monday after being convicted at a nearby deli of using a $20 counterfeit bill. According to police, after being ordered to leave his vehicle, Floyd “physically defied” the arrest, an assertion that was belied by cell phone video captured by many passers-by. So a white police officer moved on to grab Floyd and knelt for least seven minutes on his back with the 46-year-old coughing and repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Even after Floyd was unconscious the officer remained in this position. He then carried his unresponsive body to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) local chapter called the event “public ropeless lynching.”
Floyd ‘s constant call for help, “I can’t breathe,” when being restrained has sparked comparisons to Eric Garner ‘s accident and death in 2014. Garner, an innocent African American man, had uttered the same words 11 times while a police officer in New York City keeping him in a chokehold until he died.
‘I can’t breathe’ has become a rallying call for demonstrators now.
American past represents a deep clash between two exceptionalisms. The first is self-image exceptionality: a nation providentially born with rights, dignity, the rule of law, liberty, and liberalism. Yet the second exceptionalism involves only putting “sex” before certain values. The story is easy to flip. Liberty narrative turned out to be a tale about one of the world’s highest, disproportionately organized mass incarcerations in any culture.
The freedom tale turned out to be a tale of social privilege, for African Americans in particular. The rule of law story goes hand in hand with a fundamentally violent society that uses the law as an instrument for subjugating individual populations. It points out that the story of democracy is a tale of repeated efforts at political disenfranchising. And capitalism turns out to be culturally tinged: Race has deeply influenced who can or cannot compete in the public order, in urban spaces.
It is a cliché of American democracy that the original sin, “color,” exposes the dysfunction behind many of the values and policies: the shadow of race colors everything from gun rights, election practices, federalism, and welfare policy.
Every progressive political effort to eradicate the sordid history of racism tends to be followed by its setbacks. Slavery abolition introduced fresh and diabolical tactics for slavery, disempowerment, and disenfranchisement. With the use of crime and welfare as dog whistles for bigotry, the “radical changes” in the wake of the sixties were annulled.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement
In 2013, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter started circulating on social media following the acquittal of a man who fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida the year before, and a campaign against racial brutality against the African American community emerged.
In 2014, Black Lives Matter gained national attention amid marches over the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown – the latter being also a victim of the deadly shooting by police. Started by three African American women, the campaign spread across the US and attracted international attention. BLM is highly decentralized and lacks a hierarchical hierarchy.
Alt-right voices in the US have attacked the campaign. Any critics of BLM have responded with their counter-campaigns like “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
What did POTUS say?
Later on 1st June 2020, during a short televised speech from the Rose Garden of the White House, President Trump vowed to send in the troops to stop the demonstrations if they were not controlled by cities and states. Speaking as the sounds of a nearby demonstration could be heard in the distance, Mr. Trump said that he blamed “trained anarchists” and anti-fascist group “Antifa” for “we are ending the uprisings and lawlessness”.
“I highly suggest to every governor that the National Guard be mobilized in adequate numbers to rule the streets,” Mr. Trump said. The National Guard is the armed reserve force and can be called in to participate in domestic emergencies. About 16,000 of the forces have been mobilized so far to deal with the unrest. Mr. Trump added: “If a city or state fails to take the appropriate steps … then I’ll send the U.S. military to address the issue to them quickly. I want this terror’s leaders to be aware that you’re going to face serious criminal penalties,” he said.