By William J. Furney
Sixty years on, and there’s no respite from the malignant force of police brutality in the United States. The world’s sole superpower polices the globe yet, through the decades and from the race riots of the 1960s, it cannot prevent its cops from taking on the individual role of judge, jury and executioner, and stamping out lives that invariably have darker skin than others.
The day an unarmed and handcuffed George Floyd was grotesquely murdered on a Minneapolis street by a policeman kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe”, was yet another tragic and seminal moment in American history.
The shocking event, which took place less than two weeks ago, on May 25, sparked anger across the US that rippled out in a ferocious wave of fury around the world, with people taking to the streets in their tens of thousands to declare that black lives do indeed matter. (Let’s not forget that America has had a black president, or was Obama’s hue not dark enough, given that he had a white mother?)
It had been suspected that Floyd, a 46-year-old father of three, including a 6-year-old girl, had tried to buy cigarettes with a fake $20 note, and his apprehension and death-by-police happened on the same day that police in Arizona shot and killed another African-American man, 28-year-old Dion Johnson. He had been found “passed out in the driver’s seat” of a car that had been blocking traffic and during a subsequent “struggle” with police, an officer shot the man, killing him, according to a police statement.
And in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, a policeman shoved a white man with such force that the 75-year-old went hurtling to the ground, and he and a gaggle of other officers walked past as the man lay on the ground with blood pouring out of his head.
At a time of global pandemic, and when the US is leading the world with the most coronavirus cases and deaths — currently at almost 1.9 million infections and over 109,000 Covid-19 fatalities — killing a man is anathema to the valiant efforts being made to save lives. The officer who put his knee to the neck — a practice now being banned in a growing number of states, because of what happened — and snuffed out a life will not face the top murder charge because it requires premeditated intent, of which there was none. Instead, Derek Chauvin is facing a charge of second-degree murder, and three other officers, who are on the scene are charged with aiding and abetting a murder.
Just as with entrenched and deadly gun violence, there is no end in sight to the onslaught of police brutality in the US. Things are not likely to change for the better under Trump, who this week again struck entirely the wrong tone when — preposterously — he said it was a “great day” for the slain Floyd because he’d surely be happy that US job numbers were up among black Americans, even though they’re actually down (black unemployment was 16.7% in April and 16.8% in May). How out of touch, ill-informed and insensitive can you be?
“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” the bumbling leader of the free world declared at the White House on Friday. “This is a great day for him; it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality,” drawing gasps from people everywhere, including me, as I watched the astonishing press briefing live on TV.
When a reporter challenged the president on his false black employment remark, Trump shot back with a trademark put-down that allowed him to escape the quizzing, saying “You are something”, and telling viewers that they were witnessing the “greatest comeback in American history”.
It’s a case of no style, and no substance.
Joe Biden, vice president under Obama and who is up against Trump in November, after clinching the Democratic nomination on Friday, rightly ripped into his rival over his Floyd invocation while talking about jobs and the economy.
“George Floyd’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ echoed all across this nation and quite frankly around the world,” he said in a campaign speech. “For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd I frankly think is despicable.”
Trump will probably get reelected in November, because nothing the man says can seemingly dent his rock-solid popularity among Republican voters. After all, he infamously said, back in 2016, that he could shoot a person on a New York street, and he’d still be voted into office. (“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, okay, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” It’s not okay, Donald.)
People are dying in the streets, at the hands of rogue cops, and still it will make no difference.
- Title image shows the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” painted on a street in Washington, DC, this week by order of the mayor, Muriel Bowser. (Credit: Lianne Farbes)