Mass protests in Minneapolis continue for a third day in active defiance to the police after the racist murder of George Floyd, writes Shabbir Lakha
Another day, another police murder of a black person in the United States.
On Monday, George Floyd was violently arrested by police in Minneapolis over a suspected forged cheque. A video of the arrest that went viral shows police officer Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd to the floor by the neck with his knee for over seven minutes while Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe. He was later taken to hospital and died shortly afterwards.
The story of racist extrajudicial killings of unarmed black people in America is sadly all too familiar. The murder of George Floyd is disturbingly reminiscent of the killing of Eric Garner in New York in 2014. Garner had been held in a chokehold by officers while he gasped 11 times that he couldn’t breathe.
George Floyd’s murder has rightly been met with visceral outrage and mass protests have erupted in Minneapolis since Tuesday, coalescing at the site of the murder. Protesters have been fired on with tear gas and 'bean bag' rounds by heavily armed police. The violence meted out against the protesters has only inflamed the protests which have escalated for a third day.
The police precinct where George Floyd’s murderers worked had its windows smashed and a nearby building was set on fire. Typically, the mainstream media is reporting the protests as riots, clashes, and looting. The irony of talking about looting when American billionaires have made $434bn in the last 2 months while over 40 million Americans have lost their jobs seems to be lost. As it is with describing people protesting against a broad-daylight murder as violent for damaging property.
Colin Kaepernick has aptly responded:
When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction.— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) May 28, 2020
The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance.
We have the right to fight back!
Rest in Power George Floyd
The violent response to the Minneapolis protesters stands in sharp contrast to the tame treatment of armed, alt-right anti-lockdown protesters in the last few weeks. Some carrying and chanting white supremacist slogans, decked with assault rifles and physically harassing healthcare workers weren’t confronted by police lobbing teargas canisters.
A racist system
Police brutality has for a long time been the sharpest edge of the racism faced by black people in the United States. As Lucy Nichols argued recently after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, racism is deeply rooted in state institutions and this is especially true of the police. The police are an arm of the state with the express authority to use violence to defend the state’s interests.
Some of the first police forces in the South of the US were founded to enforce slavery, and even after the Civil War a significant remit of police forces was implementing Jim Crow laws and segregation in the North. From the 1950’s-70s during the civil rights era, the FBI set up a specific programme, COINTELPRO, to monitor and suppress black activists either directly or through local law enforcement. From the assassinations of Fred Hampton and dozens of Black Panthers, the Jackson State Massacre and the Central Park Five through to the recent past with the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and countless others, the US police are institutionally racist killers.
The other side of this coin is America’s criminal justice system. A system which on the one hand has criminalised being black to the extent that a third of the US prison population (which in itself is over a fifth of the world’s prisoners) are black, and on the other hand has ensured police that have murdered black people are able to do so with impunity. Not a single one of the police officers responsible for the killings of the people mentioned above have been indicted.
Derek Chauvin himself, who has now hired the lawyer that successfully defended the killer of Philando Castile, was one of several cops who shot and killed a Native American man in 2006 and faced no charges. At least one of the other three officers responsible for George Floyd’s murder has also been involved in police brutality in the past. The groundwork for letting the killers go free is already being laid with police saying it will take up to three weeks to determine the real cause of death and the Minnesota prosecutor investigating the case commenting at a press conference that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”
Culpability, and often direct responsibility, lies with the political class. Trump’s open racism, in words and actions, have stoked the far right and given cover to racist police violence. The 1994 Crime Bill that was championed by Joe Biden and passed into law by Bill Clinton’s administration has been a key factor in the mass incarceration of black people, and the 1033 program authorised by Clinton has seen billions of dollars of military equipment transferred to police forces around the country. Amy Klobuchar, who ran to be the Democrat Presidential candidate and is currently tipped to be one of the favourites to become Biden’s running mate, was the prosecutor that decided to not to charge Chauvin in 2006.
Black lives matter
The movement which rose after the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014 is alive in the streets of Minneapolis today. The anger and the fight for justice cannot be contained. The history of the anti-racist struggle in the US is a testament that organised resistance can force change.
It is unsurprising that the politicians and the media are demonising protesters and calling for ‘calm’. I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King: “true peace is not the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice”. No justice, no peace. All solidarity with the people of Minneapolis.
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Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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