Since May 29, the worst civil unrest in decades erupted in cities across the USA, sparked by anger at the death of a black American man killed by a white policeman in Minneapolis. George Floyd an Afro-American who was seated in his car, was suddenly pulled out the vehicle by four white policemen, handcuffed and thrown to the ground by an officer who knelt on his neck suffocating the man.
Floyd kept pleading that he was finding it impossible to breathe, but the policeman kept kneeling on his neck... for over eight minutes, according to bystanders who kept shouting to the officer to release the man who was obviously in deep trouble. Some of the bystanders filmed the incident. Three other policemen who accompanied Chauvin kept bystanders at bay and did nothing to help the handcuffed victim.
After eight minutes and 24 seconds, Floyd ceased struggling... his body went limp. Yet, George Floyd was only another digit, in the long list of victims of the US administration’s brutality against minorities - especially the Afro-American community in the US. Early Tuesday morning, the Minneapolis Police Department announced that a man had died after a “medical incident during a police interaction,” adding the man resisted arrest. To add fuel to fire, initially, the officers involved in the killing were placed on ‘paid administrative leave’ pending investigation!
As details about Floyd’s death spread, protesters began to gather at the site of the crime. Many carried signs “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop Killing Black People,” and “I Can’t Breathe,” Floyd’s last words. When protestors marched on the Minneapolis police HQ, officers responded with baton charges, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors and violence broke out.
Today protests accompanied by rioting have broken out in all states of the US, with demonstrators demanding justice and equality before the law for all irrespective of colour, race or religion and police attempting to quell the protests.
The US President further escalated the already-inflamed passions by openly siding with the accused white policemen, referring to the protesters as ‘thugs’, and using military force to clear peaceful protestors at a church, which he (Trump), could use as a photo opportunity presenting himself as white and Christian. This blatant abuse of the military authority angered both the christian leadership as well as the military commanders. It resulted in the US Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff issuing a letter to all military personnel that their duty was to protect the US Constitution, putting the military in direct confrontation with the President. There are many lessons for us, Lankans to learn from the death and destruction tearing US society apart.
General Mattis, Secretary of Defence in Trump’s cabinet who first openly opposed the use of US military against ordinary US people during the current unrest, opened the floodgates for others like the Chairman of Joint Chief’s to openly reprimand their President. Gen. Mattis called Trump a divisive factor in the US who always promoted divisions in US society.
Today, the US is reaping the harvest of these divisions. Having sowed the wind, Trump is now reaping the whirlwind of the divisions he himself promoted - white against black, privileged against deprived and Christian against Muslim. This is the lesson we have to learn, divisions based on race, colour, creed and religion only weaken nations as a whole.
We have just come out of a 30-year war because of discrimination faced by the Tamil community. More recently, we have seen attacks against our Muslim brethren. This is why we have to fight against - divisions among our people - it only weakens us as a nation. Fortunately, we seem to have learned from our mistakes, as for example the incident where a group of policemen under cover of enforcing the corona virus-induced curfew, beat up an autistic child, a number of prominent citizens like Kumar Sangakkara, ex-MP and young Namal Rajapaksa boldly took a stand against the the racist attack and called for justice for the young lad. Suffice to say the sub-inspector of police, the sergeant and the police constable were promptly suspended from service.
Another lesson from the sad events in the US is to understand that George Floyd’s killing became an issue because the ordinary people of the US stood up to the discrimination heaped on its minorities. Huddling in little groups and internalising our hurt will not help solve the problem that only creates ulcers which lead to bigger issues. We have to be ready to face the backlash of the perpetrators. And stand up for our rights.