Being black in America almost seems to be a death sentence, latest being the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota.How many ‘black’ deaths will it take until racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally ends?
The latest heart-rending incident of racial crime and police brutality took place in a country which claims to be the world’s oldest democracy, i.e. United States of America. Just close your eyes and visualize the scene…and it’s for sure tears will start rolling down your cheeks automatically. Justice was expected to have tampered with mercy, but that didn’t happen.
The place: Minneapolis in Minnesota (USA). An unarmed black man was handcuffed and pinned to the ground wreathing in pain…a white police officer is kneeling on his neck, and he was pleading for help… he was gasping for breath… he was groaning “please; I can’t breathe, don’t kill me”… another officer was standing by and watching…even bystanders are urging officers to let him go… another yelling, “Bro, you’ve got him down, let him breathe at least, man”… and, after five minutes he ceases to move, turns silent and is motionless as his head remains shoved against the pavement and an ambulance arrives to take him to Hennepin County Medical Center where he later died.
The ill-fated person was 46-year old African-American George Floyd. His only crime was that he was a black and was allegedly trying to use a $20 counterfeit bill. He lived in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb. He grew up in Houston and was a high school sports star. He worked at a restaurant in Minneapolis and rented from the owner. His death was captured on video and was later widely shared on social media. His death in police custody has sparked massive outrage across the United States. President Trump blasted what he called a “total lack of leadership” in Minneapolis. The FBI is investigating the incident, and four police officers have been fired.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has said, “Being black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched as a white police officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense.”
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar urged a thorough outside investigation, saying, “Justice must be served for this man and his family, justice must be served for our community, justice must be served for our country.”
Floyd’s death shows how black people are subjected to excessive violence even when laws such as a 2016 “duty to intervene” policy exist. The countless deaths of black men and women is a form of “genocide,” according to Benjamin Crump - a civil rights lawyer who has taken on the cases of Martin, Brown, Rice, Arbery, and Taylor and will now represent Floyd’s family as well - and the killing of Floyd follows the same pattern of systematic racism. “How many ‘while black’ deaths will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of black lives by police finally end?” Crump wrote in a statement on Floyd’s death.
REPETITIVE HISTORY OF POLICE BRUTALITY AGAINST THE BLACK COMMUNITY
The black community is far too familiar with the police brutality that led to Floyd’s death; there is no shortage of stories about law enforcement killing black people who are often unarmed. Although they make up about 13 per cent of the population, black people accounted for 23 per cent of the people killed by law enforcement in 2019, according to a Washington Post database.
Over the past seven years, there has been growing attention paid to police brutality, due to several high-profile cases: African-American Trayvon Martin, 17, was unarmed when he was shot in February 2012 after being reported as “suspicious” for merely visiting his dad’s fiancee, who lived in a gated community. Neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman was acquitted in the case. In the wake of his death came Black Lives Matter, a movement against the systematic violence and discrimination against the black population. Allegations of police brutality have continuously been highlighted since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Protests continued as more black men continued to die at the hands of the police in 2014. Eric Garner - whose case closely resembles that of Floyd – said, “I can’t breathe” 11 times as NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold after a confrontation over untaxed cigarettes. A month later, the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown sparked mass protests in Ferguson. And in November, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with his toy pellet gun when he was shot dead seconds after officer Timothy Loehmann stepped out of his squad car.
Even in the past month, the black community has mourned the death of two people killed by both former and current law enforcement officials. In February, Ahmad Arbery was chased and killed in Georgia by a retired police detective and his son; it wasn’t until after a graphic video documenting the shooting went viral this month that the men were arrested. And in March, Breonna Taylor, a black woman in Kentucky, was fatally shot in her apartment in Louisville by three white policemen for an investigation that she wasn’t even involved. Like Arbery, her case didn’t gain national recognition until recently.
Rang aur nasl, zaat aur mazhab/ Jo bhi ho aaadmi se kamtar hain… (Colour and race, caste and religion…they are lesser important than human being come what may.) Did you remember the mesmerizing and thought-provoking number ‘‘Ponch kar ashq apni aankhon se…muskurao toh koi baat bane’’… (wipe out those tears from your eyes and smile…only then something will emerge) in the film Naya Raasta (1970), straight from the rebel poet and lyricist Sahir (Magician) Ludhianavi’s heart? He strongly advocated… ‘‘Nafraton ke jahan me hum ko…pyaar ki bastiyaan basaani hain’’ (we have to build bustees of love in this world of hatred.) But, alas! Those social evils are still prevalent in our societies and that too in the 21st century!