A picture of protest against George Floyd's killing by American police.
Martin Luther King Jr., several decades ago said, "Three major evils-the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war. These are the three things that I want to deal with today. Now let us turn first to the evil of racism. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racism is still alive all over America. Racial injustice is still the Negro's burden and America's shame.
And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over black Americans. We must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations."
But an African - American George Floyd's killing has opened the wounds of centuries of American racism. His death, an unarmed 46-year-old black man killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has sparked protests across the USA. It has reignited a centuries-long conversation around racism in America and the horrendous ways black people are often treated by police. And it came amid a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting people of color.
On May 25, 2020 Floyd, who had recently lost his job as a restaurant bouncer due to coronavirus-related closures, died after being pinned down under a police officer's knee for several minutes. That officer, Derek Chauvin, ignored Floyd's pleas of distress as three other officers looked on and bystanders begged Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd's neck.
A video taken by a bystander and posted online spread quickly on social media. It shows that by the time Chauvin stopped holding Floyd down, he was silent and motionless. According to a criminal complaint filed against Chauvin, an officer on the scene checked for Floyd's pulse before Chauvin removed his knee and could not find it.
Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. Chauvin and the three other officers involved in the incident were fired, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The incident has rightly prompted outrage across the country, and thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Minneapolis and in cities across America. While many of these protests have been peaceful, some have turned violent, with police clashes, burning buildings, and looting.
The protests have been focused on policing, but come during a 2020 that has been acutely painful for people of color. The coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected black and Latino Americans, who have become sick and died of Covid-19 at higher rates than whites. The economic turmoil brought on by stay-at-home measures has also hit people of color especially hard - the have lost more jobs, and they were less likely to be financially stable in the first place.
Add to that a cascade of headlines of black Americans whose lives have been cut short by white violence and by police in recent weeks - Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and, most recently, Floyd.
As Americans were grappling with these tragic headlines, a video went viral of a white woman feigning her life was being threatened by a black man bird-watching in New York's Central Park after he asked her to leash her dog. It was a reminder that beyond concerns over state violence, systematic racism creates potentially dangerous situations for black Americans doing even the most mundane things.
The protests spawned by the deaths of Floyd and others are hardly a new development in the United States - the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and countless others have led to significant public outcry in recent years.
Four years before Floyd's fatal arrest in Minneapolis, Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop in a nearby Minnesota suburb. Floyd told the officer who kept his knee on his neck, "I can't breathe," echoing the words of Eric Garner who died after being held in a chokehold in a police encounter in New York in 2014.
If it feels like we have seen this crisis before, it's because we have. And still so many things have not changed. Floyd grew up in Houston and moved to Minneapolis in 2014 to look for work, according to CBS Minnesota.
He got a position as a security guard at a Salvation Army store downtown, and then later began to work two jobs as a truck driver and a bouncer. He had a 6-year-old daughter who still lives in Houston with her mother. In the weeks before his death, he had been laid off due to Minnesota's stay-at-home order.
Bystanders have explained the circumstances of his May 25, 2020 encounter with police following a purchase at a convenience store and, ultimately, his death, as shown by video footage captured of the incident:
Although the video doesn't capture the moments leading to the arrest, the Minneapolis Police Department said they were responding to a call that a man was trying to use a US$20 counterfeit bill, according to the Star Tribune.
In a statement, the police department said officers arrived at the scene to find Floyd who matched the description of the suspect sitting on a car and appearing to be intoxicated. They added that Floyd physically resisted the police and seemed to be suffering medical distress, which is why they had called for an ambulance.
The police's excessive use of force seemingly has no excuse: The department does not permit the technique that was used to pin Floyd's head to the ground, according to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
The four officers involved were fired on May 26, 2020 and the next day, Mayor Frey called for Chauvin to face criminal charges. Local officials said they were investigating Floyd's death as expeditiously, as thoroughly, and as completely as justice demands and asked for patience from the public.
Chauvin, the killer police official was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and the Justice Department said it would investigate Floyd's death as well. Chauvin's wife has filed for divorce, and his bail has been set at US$500,000.
The day the officers involved were fired, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said in a statement that all video of the incident should be reviewed, and called for waiting on the medical examiner's report. Officers' actions and training protocol will be carefully examined after the officers have provided their statements - the federation said.
According to the criminal complaint against Chauvin released, Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, including two minutes and 53 seconds during which Floyd was non-responsive. Officer J.A. Keung, another of the four officers fired, tried to find Floyd's pulse shortly after he became unresponsive, and could not.
The county medical examiner's preliminary autopsy findings say there were "no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation" and said that the "combined effects of Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions, and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death." An independent autopsy commissioned by Floyd's family determined that he died of asphyxiation because of neck and back compression that cut off blood flow to his brain.
Whether the other officers involved will face charges is unclear. George Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon said the other officers should also be in jail. "They're at home right now sleeping in their bed, relaxing," he said. "Chauvin's in jail, he's only one. The other three need to be in there. My brother, he is in the morgue. That's not right. I want justice now. He deserves that."
Minneapolis Police Chief MedariaArradondo who was speaking to reporter Sara Snider at a protest. She asked him whether the other officers would be arrested."Being silent or not intervening - to me, you're complicit. So I don't see a level of distinction any different," Arradondo said. "
So obviously the charging and those decisions will have to come through our county attorney's office. Certainly, the FBI is investigating that. But to the Floyd family, I want you to know that my decision to fire all four officers was not based on some sort of hierarchy. Floyd died in our hands."
The public reaction to Floyd's death has been swift and enormous. Politicians, celebrities, athletes, and multiple other public figures have spoken out. Former President Barack Obama released a lengthy statement calling for the country to work for a "new normal" for black Americans. "This shouldn't be normal in 2020 America," he wrote. He also released a lengthy post on Medium about the way forward.
Former Vice President Joe Biden called the moment a "national crisis" and one that necessitates "leadership that will bring everyone to the table so we can take measures to root out systemic racism." President Donald Trump expressed his condolences to Floyd's family and said he spoke with them.
Even members of law enforcement spoke out condemning the circumstances in which Floyd was killed. "To be honest with you, it was very difficult to watch," Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith told local news outlet WBRC. He continued, "It degrades the trust in all law enforcement, not just one area. When things like this happen, it spreads throughout the country. It makes all of us go back and check our relationships and make sure we are doing things the right way."
Protests have been ignited in Minneapolis and across the country as people have expressed their outrage not only about Floyd's death, but about the underlying racism and inequality that renders being black in America dangerous, particularly at the hands of police.
Minneapolis has seen days of unrest. There have been a number of peaceful protests, but some businesses there have been looted and vandalized, and police stations and other buildings burnt down. Demonst-rations have become increasingly volatile as local officials have asked the public for peace. The governor called for the full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard. And for black Americans, these aren't data points - they are real and lived situations each and every day.
The writer is an independent political observer who writes on politics, political and human-centered figures, current and
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