Wave of violent fury erupts across USA

Riots: It was the sixth night of protest sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd. © Getty

Is the United State’s crisis, our crisis? The media presents American racism as a uniquely US problem. But evidence shows anti-black racism is rapidly worsening in the UK and Europe too.

“I can’t breathe.”

For nine minutes, a white police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, choking him to death. A video of the murder, which took place in the US city of Minneapolis, has been watched by millions.

Furious protests have taken place in at least 30 cities across the USA. Some turned violent, with heavily equipped police and national guardsmen being drafted in to stop arson and looting.

Even before the police officer who killed George Floyd was charged, a black CNN journalist covering the protests was arrested while on air. In New York, police cars drove into crowds of demonstrators.

Secret service agents abruptly rushed Donald Trump to his underground bunker in the White House, where he continued to stoke the flames, tweeting threats to attack his own citizens with “shooting”, “vicious dogs”, and “ominous weapons”. And then, last night, declaring a loose affiliation of left-wing protestors, known as Antifa, a “terrorist organisation”.

The dramatic scenes of burning buildings, militarised police, and emotional crowds is nothing new in the US.

For a country whose ideal of individual freedom has long been undermined by slavery and segregation, police brutality is not so much a surprise as a reminder of a deep-seated trauma. As the actor Will Smith once put it, “Racism isn’t getting worse. It’s getting filmed.”

Yesterday, protesters in London, Cardiff, and Manchester gathered in solidarity.

In London, demonstrators first gathered in Trafalgar Square, chanting, “No justice, no peace.” Thousands then made their way through Whitehall past Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, then over the Thames to the enormous and moated US embassy at Nine Elms in Battersea.

Experts are warning that it is all too easy to see anti-black oppression as a uniquely American problem.

“The UK is slowly waking up to the fact that racism exists here and the truth is, we have just as much of a race problem as the one so prominently associated with the USA,” writes the black journalist Jazmin Kopotsha.

Noel Clarke, the black English actor, says racism is just as embedded in the UK as it is in the USA, and that he has been silenced by individuals in the film industry for speaking up.

“People act like this is just a US problem,” he tweeted. “Racism is prevalent here too. It is embedded in the fabric of society, the industry I’m in. Sometimes it’s hard to keep fighting, when whenever you speak up, you’re silenced or labelled as aggressive, difficult or chippy.”

And in recent weeks, according to the Daily Mail, BAME people are 54% more likely to be stopped by police for breaching coronavirus-related restrictions.

So, is America’s crisis, our crisis?

The fabric of society

Yes. Many argue that anti-black racism has deep roots in white-dominated UK and European society. The tendency to absolve racism at home by deploring it in the USA is a particularly iniquitous attitude and needs to be fiercely resisted.

That’s going too far, others say. Though many European countries are responsible for countless racist atrocities, the US is a special case. After years of slavery and segregation, the pain of black Americans is of a particular and incomparable kind.

You Decide

  1. Have you seen any racist incidents take place recently? Who did you talk to about them?
  2. Do you personally think that ethnic minorities in other parts of the world can relate to what black Americans feel at times like these?

Activities

  1. Design and create your own placard for a protest against racism in your country.
  2. Imagine you are a politician in the USA. Write out the one law that you would pass to try and ensure that injustices like that suffered by George Floyd never happen again.

Some People Say...

“Like so many of you, I’m pained by these recent tragedies. And I’m exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on.”

Michele Obama, former First Lady of the USA

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Racial inequality in the US is astounding. According to recent estimates, in the US, white households earn on average between seven and 10 times more than black households. While 13% of the general population is black, so is 40% of the prison population. George Floyd was arrested for allegedly using a fake $20 bill in a shop. The officer who killed him had had 18 previous complaints filed against him.
What do we not know?
We do not know how to compare racial tensions in countries with different histories. We do not know what measures can successfully diffuse the aggression shown by police in America, year after year. We do not know what policies can successfully ameliorate existing racial disparities without a backlash.

Word Watch

Minneapolis
A major city in Minnesota, that forms part of the “Twin Cities” along with St. Paul. It has a population of 3.6 million.
Arson
The act of setting fire to something deliberately. Acts of arson are commonplace during some protests. For instance, in Minneapolis, one of the police stations was burned down.
Antifa
The modern American Antifa movement began in the 1980s with a group called Anti-Racist Action. Its members confronted neo-Nazi skinheads. By the early 2000s, the Antifa movement was mostly dormant – until the rise of Donald Trump.
Moated
Surrounded by a moat (usually a dry or water-filled ditch).
BAME
Black and minority ethnic. A term for people who are not white in the UK. The group is used for statistics and surveys and is a way of measuring diversity and ensuring inclusion.
Iniquitous
Grossly unfair and morally wrong.

Subjects

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