On May 25, 2020, something terrible happened in Colombo. A set of police officers accosted a citizen who did not belong to the majority community. The man was suspected of giving a bad cheque. He was assaulted, handcuffed and even as he said ‘mata husmaganna bae (‘I can’t breathe), one of the officers pinned him down, knee on neck. The man died.
There were protests in Colombo. Riot police baton-charged and tear-gassed protesters. Water cannons were used. Rubber bullets were shot. Police dogs were unleashed. Police cars ploughed through demonstrators in various parts of the city. Unarmed, handcuffed people were punched. Over and over again. People who had fallen, were punched and pummeled mercilessly. Television crews were attacked. Equipment destroyed. The media, state and private, ‘fixed’ the narrative: ‘a criminal, an unruly mob, vandalism…the police merely moved in to keep the peace…they didn’t start the fire, they are merely quenching fires lit by anarchists.’
There was outrage. There were missives from several diplomatic missions, the USA included. Ambassadors called and wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Statements were issued to the media. Dr. Fernand de Varennes, Extraordinary (!) Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, castigated the Sri Lankan Government for promoting violence against minorities, in diplospeak of course. International human rights organizations were livid. Sanctions against Sri Lanka were recommended. Michelle Bachelet, chief of the UNHRC, expressed dismay in a missive full of veiled threats.
Well! Didn’t happen here. Happened and is happening right now in the United States of America.
The US Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz knows what has been happening in the US for centuries. She knows what happened on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis. She knows what’s happening right now. Brutal. Racist. Insufferable Unpardonable. But Fenand de Varennes is extraordinarily silent. So is Michelle Bachelet. The Sri Lankan Ambassador in Washington, DC, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka are silent too. Those NGO personalities in the rights business who sneer at the nation and nationalism here in Colombo are not affirming their internationalism either.
The United States of America is burning. The good people of that country are standing up. They want to be counted and they are being counted too I have no doubt, not for benevolent and happy purposes either.
George Floyd said ‘I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd was not allowed to breathe. George Floyd is no longer breathing. Are you breathing easier now Ms Teplitz, I wonder. Is your America, that of genocidal, white racism breathing easier now, I wonder. Who had a knee on whose neck and who is kneeling now, I wonder.
There’s video footage of all this, Ms Teplitz knows. Its streaming in from New York, Houston, Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Detroit and other unhappy cities in her country. The United States of America is burning. The good people of that country are standing up. They want to be counted and they are being counted too I have no doubt, not for benevolent and happy purposes either. LeBron James was spot on when he picked up and posted two images, one of George Floyd being kneed and another of Colin Kaepernick kneeling while ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ was being played before a San Francisco 49ers preseason game in 2016. ‘This ... ... Is Why,’ read the legend above the pictures. And this was the question LeBron put to one and all on Instagram: ‘Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you? #StayWoke.’
Black people and other minorities did not have to wake up. They were up and their nightmares were not associated with night and slumber. George Floyd’s murder was not a one-off affair. He is one of many. The various Police Departments in major US cities are notorious for racial profiling, mindless brutality against non-white suspects and soft-gloved approaches to white miscreants. The judicial system is racist and the proof is in the highly disproportionate number of inmates who are non-white. White racism’s knee has been on minority-neck for decades. No, centuries.
But Ms Teplitz knows that this knee-on-neck is not a phenomenon that is peculiar to Minneapolis or Los Angeles or New York or Washington DC or any other major city in the USA. It sums up in fact US Foreign Policy. It’s not a Donald Trump thing. It predates the US President. The US will not let anyone or any country that gets in the way of US interests (access to and extraction of resource, securing and maintaining markets and acquiring strategic assets legally, through arm-twisting or simply by implementing guns-in-booty-out policies). It uses knee-on-neck on nations and leaders who say ‘no can do.’ Those who will not be brainwashed with tall stories about free markets, growth and such, will be cajoled and bribed. Those who will not submit will be subdued. Knee-on-neck. Proverbially, speaking.
There’s a cry that’s rising from all over the United States of America. ‘I CAN’T BREATHE.’ That’s how George Floyd is breathing right now. That’s how this man, who pleaded, ‘let me stand,’ but was not allowed to, stands today.
The world can also say, ‘I can’t breathe!’ The world can agitate against the kind of kneeling that’s ‘all in a day’s work’ for the police in the USA. The world can stand up. And if the world does not, then breathing will not be an option. Standing will not be tenable. Maybe, just maybe, considering that the Government it represents is on its knees on many counts Ambassador Teplitz might understand now something of the condition of asphyxiation. She might be unexpectedly finding it hard to breathe. That would be extraordinary, Fenand de Varennes (who got hot under the collar over Muslim Covid-19 victims being cremated in Sri Lanka) might in his less complicit moments conclude.
She says, ‘the US Justice Department has announced a full criminal investigation into the circumstances of Floyd’s death.’ Death? Interesting choice of word. It was MURDER, Ms Teplitz knows this. And there’s not a word in her media release about the absolute brutality unleashed on protesters after the murder of George Floyd. Humbuggery much.
‘I can’t breathe’ is a worldwide cry. It is a cry flavoured by the last breath taken by a 46-year-old man in Minneapolis, George Floyd. It’s a ‘#staywoke’ slogan. Let’s not sleep, for there’s a good chance that we will be kneed while in dreamland.