PLAY HARD, WORK HARD
This is America
Thousands of people across the world have gathered to protest the killing of unarmed African American George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd was killed on 25 May, as four officers detained him, with one officer – Derek Chauvin – kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, despite Floyd calling out repeatedly that he could not breathe.
It’s definitely not the first time black Americans have been killed in police custody, and it’s unfortunate that it’s unlikely George Floyd will be the last.
The protesting which has taken place across the world has made some significant changes – it’s hard to deny that. Derek Chauvin’s charges have been elevated to second-degree murder, and all officers involved in George Floyd’s death have now been charged, following pleas from protestors worldwide.
Six police officers in Atlanta have been charged, after a video went viral showing the officers using a stun gun and dragging two young Black students, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, from a car following protests.
Miami police have banned officers from using a “carotid restraint”, otherwise known as a chokehold. San Francisco’s city supervisors have introduced a resolution to prevent the police department from hiring officers with records of serious misconduct.
Cities across America, including Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Texas have begun the process of redirecting part of the budget of each of their police departments to serve Black communities and communities of colour.
But there is still work which needs to be done.
Breonna Taylor was shot eight times by Louisville police after officers forced their way inside her home; the officers had a no-knock warrant. The Louisville metro council unanimously voted to pass an ordinance called “Breonna’s Law”, banning no-knock search warrants. But the officers who killed Taylor have not been arrested nor charged.
Police officers have ‘qualified immunity’ (or legal immunity as it’s called in Britain). Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine which makes it difficult for people whose civil rights are violated by police officers (such as in cases of police brutality) to obtain money damages in lawsuits.
Essentially, it’s impossible to sue police officers unless the victim can show that the officer violated a right explicitly recognised by a prior court ruling. Even if the exact same incident that happened to George Floyd happened to another, unless it happened in exactly the same place, even if the difference is a matter of metres, it is not possible to find officers liable.
I know that many of us will be looking at what happened in America as a matter of ‘us versus them’.
I’m not saying racism in the UK is in any way the same as it is in America, but it is naïve to think racism does not exist in Britain.
As Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
Mark Duggan was shot by Metropolitan police in London in 2011; he was unarmed when facing police officers before he was shot and his death sparked riots across London. Black people account for 8% of deaths in police custody in the UK, despite the black community accounting for only 3% of the British population (as reported by the Guardian).
Jimmy Mubenga’s death on a plane on a Heathrow runway in 2010, while being restrained by three immigration officers, saw the immigration officers later acquitted of manslaughter, despite Mubenga’s death counted as unlawful.
Rashan Charles’ death in 2017 in Hackney, after being restrained by a police officer, and Edson Da Costa’s death under similar circumstances in the same year saw all officers from both cases cleared.
Of course, Britain is nowhere near as bad as America when it comes to the issue of police brutality. But it is impossible to deny there is no reason for the Black Lives Matter Movement in Britain.
For many, the conversations about race which have been sparked by recent events may be uncomfortable. But these conversations need to be had, because if it is uncomfortable for you to talk about, imagine living the uncomfortable reality. We need to have these uncomfortable discussions about race so that five-year-olds no longer need to be informed that a police officer may treat them badly because of the colour of their skin.
Black Lives Matter as a movement was founded in 2013, in response to the acquittal of the police officer who killed Trayvon Martin.
The movement is seen by many as controversial, as putting the importance of black lives above the importance of every other life. As Barack Obama once said, “‘Black Lives Matter’ simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed. It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter. It’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability”.
All lives do matter. But currently, black lives and the lives of people of colour are the lives we need to concentrate on. Imagine if you broke your leg and went to the doctor. Whilst all your bones matter, right now, your broken leg is the priority for treatment.
“There are very few hardships out there that hit only people of colour and not white people, but there are a lot of hardships that hit people of colour a lot more than white people” – Ijeoma Olua, ‘So You Want to Talk About Race’.
By Tirion Davies