It is amazing and difficult to believe that so many white Americans, Europeans and Australians have so far been anti-racists or against white supremacist views as they are being seen after the killing of George Floyd, an African American by an American policeman on May 25.
Demonstrations are being held in hundreds of cities in the US against the killing with demonstrators carrying placards with slogans “Black lives matter”, “No justice-No peace” and “I can’t breathe”, the last words uttered by Floyd when the policeman Derek Chauvin was kneeling on his neck for nearly 9 minutes, before he died.
Four policemen including Chauvin had taken Floyd into custody for allegedly passing a 20 dollar counterfeit note to a grocery store to purchase cigarettes. Even if it is true, it was not a crime for the police to kill a man and the video footages clearly shows that Floyd did not behave in an aggressive manner, before he was manhandled by the Minneapolis policemen.
The killing was not seen as mere police brutality given the recent history of similar crimes perpetrated by the police. It represented extreme and savage racism. The brutal way the black man was killed and the arrogant look in the eyes of the policeman on his neck invited thousands of people to throng in the streets for the past two weeks. The demonstrations in the first week were violent with people looting and setting fire to shops but the agitations are now largely peaceful.
Now demonstrations have spread to Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Hungary, Brazil, South Korea and many other countries, calling for an end to racism, especially against the Black people. Whether it is a genuine mind change or whether it is due to the slogans being trending would be seen only in a few weeks. Yet, the trend is unprecedented. In fact, it was the intensity of demonstrations that seems to have forced the Minnesota Attorney General to charge all four police officers involved in the killing.
Racism is not only in the US or only in countries where white people predominantly live in. In the recent history one cannot forget Rwanda and Bosnia - Herzegovina where hundreds of thousands of people were killed just for being “them” instead of “us.” During the ethnic cleansing campaign between 1992 and 1995 by the Serbian forces after Bosnia-Herzegovina decided to leave the former Yugoslavia that was ruled mainly by Serbs, around 200,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed and around 50,000 women were raped. In one place alone - in Srebrenica nearly 8000, mainly men and boys were killed in 1995.
An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed within 100 days between April and June, 1994. Most of the dead were Tutsis and moderate Hutus - and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus, the Majority tribe in Rwanda. Even for a country with a turbulent history of ethnic riots as Rwanda, the scale and speed of the slaughter left its people reeling.
The genocide was sparked by the death of the then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down over the airport of Capital Kigali on 6 April 1994. As in July 1983 in Sri Lanka, the organised gangs of Hutus unleashed violence against the unarmed Tutsis turning the country into a killing field for over three months. Félicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted suspects of this genocide, was arrested near Paris last month, after 26 years later.
All these crimes were perpetrated in the name of tribe or race and point how racism could become savage. Even Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party in Germany, argued that the Germans were superior to all other races. Hitler became obsessed with ‘racial purity’ and used the word ‘Aryan’ to describe his idea of a ‘pure German race’ or Herrenvolk. The ‘Aryan race’ had a duty to control the world, according to him. He used this theory to justify his annexation and plundering of other countries in the wake of the great economic depression that engulfed the world between 1929 and1939.
Racism is in almost everybody in varying degrees; whether one belongs to a majority community or a minority community or a particular colour in a country. And many people justify or disguise it with patriotism - which is considered as a virtue - or with defence against oppression. In countries like Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Myanmar racism raises its ugly head almost in every election. It is against this backdrop that the National Election Commission of Sri Lanka on June 3 had issued a revised “Code of Conduct for Political parties/ Independent Groups and Candidates Contesting Elections” with special emphasis on using race, religion and caste for electoral purposes. Will the politicians care?