By Carlton Joseph
This week The Caribbean Camera celebrates 30 years of service to the citizens of Canada. The planned celebrations and revenues have been impacted by the COVID- 19 pandemic but Canadians are thankful that the government has initiated programs that keep the country reasonably functional.
In the United States, police brutality against Black people has taken centre stage in the midst of the pandemic. The police killing of George Floyd, an African American man in Minneapolis, has sparked the largest nationwide uprising since the 1960s. More than 4,000 people were arrested and police confronted demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets in cities across the country.
Reminiscent of 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, police cars and buildings went up in flames and protest erupted all over the nation. The major difference is that we are in the middle of a health care pandemic that has taken the lives of over 105,000 citizens .Millions of people have been furloughed and millions have filed for unemployment compensation.
The US is in crisis, and crisis has different political consequences, depending on the political and economic environment and leadership. During protests on Friday, President Trump was moved to the underground bunker of ther White House.. On Saturday, he took to Twitter to threaten protesters with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” Then on Monday, Trump declared that he was the law and order president and threatened to deploy the United States military, if a city or state refused to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of its residents.
These crises did not begin with the Trump administration. These are the consequences of the failures of past and present government, the political establishment, and the economic establishment of this country.Black people have been living with the racist pandemic for the past four hundred years; they now have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately impacted them.
The police have been killing Black people with impunity. Even when Black people protest, or there is video footage of a police crime on Black people, the police are exonerated. With respect to this particular killing. four police officers were fired from their job, free to take up employment anywhere else in the state or country. Multiracial protests forced the city to charge one of the police officers, Derek Chauvin, with third degree murder and second degree manslaughter in connection with the death of George Floyd.
Legal experts explain that third-degree murder requires that prosecutors show that Chauvin acted recklessly and dangerously, without necessarily intending to kill Floyd. Second-degree murder requires proof that the defendant intentionally killed the victim, without premeditation. They claim that prosecutors inexplicably omitted some of the most important lines Floyd uttered in the video: “Don’t Kill me” and “I’m about to die.” Floyd’s statements are particularly crucial because they unequivocally put Chauvin on notice that Floyd was in mortal danger — yet Chauvin continued kneeling on his neck.
My concern-Why would prosecutors leave out the clearest and most legally pivotal statements made by Floyd? Are we about to get another testimonial that Black lives do not matter?
There are reports of white supremacists infiltrating some of the demonstrations. My experience from the 1960s and ’70s informs me that this is normal government reaction when Black people seek redress. What is significant to me is that people have to be really angry, desperate and hopeless to come out and protest in the conditions of a health pandemic. They are risking death to get the change they desire. This is how hopeless they view their current condition.
My concern is that many people are not wearing masks, locking arms together, being handcuffed and put in police wagons and spending the night in jails where they cannot observe social distancing or wash themselves properly. This could cause a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths and be more disastrous for the Black and Brown community.
I am not surprised that thousands of young white people have joined the protests. They have graduated from college with student loans, cannot find jobs that would enable them to repay the loans and buy a house and have moved in with their parents. They have experienced the recession of 2008 and now the pandemic. The American dream has turned into a nightmare. Class and race rebellion has converged and the common enemy is the state.
The young people are saying: “You all have been hypocritical. You haven’t been concerned about our suffering, our misery. And we no longer believe in your legitimacy.” They are telling me “your generation had your time to choose between Martin and Malcolm and you chose Martin. Martin was murdered in 1968, 52 years ago and nothing has changed, in fact black people seem to be regressing. We have decided to try Malcolm’s strategy.” The arc of justice is bending too slowly for this generation.
People are appalled by the violence that erupted in response to widespread protests across the nation. They are shocked at the kind of military gear that so many of these police officers are wearing, causing Democratic senator, Brian Schatz from Hawaii, to tweet that he’s introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to discontinue the program that transfers military weaponry to local police departments.
The nation is at a critical juncture. Politicians and the oligarchs can continue to ignore the call for economic and racial justice or they can address it.
Police are never arrested, prosecuted, or punished, for their kind of racist, abusive and violent behavior. Their budgets are rarely cut and they rarely incur layoffs. The military are in the enviable position of always getting more money than they need or want.
In contrast, because of the COVID-19 crisis, every city is talking about massive budget cuts, in the civic and public sector infrastructure. Public schools, public hospitals, public libraries, the things that make a city function, are the target of these budget cuts. The priorities of the governing politicians and bodies are clear-incarceration is more profitable and important than the educational, financial or health needs of its citizens.
Activist Tamika Mallory, in response to Trump’s statement on looting, said : “Don’t talk to us about looting. Y’all are the looters. America has looted Black people. America looted the Native Americans when they first came here. So looting is what you do. We learned it from you. We learned violence from you. The violence was what we learned from you. So if you want us to do better, then, damn it, you do better.”
Trump in response to citizens using their first amendment right is displaying his authoritarian leanings. He said, “We’re going to clamp down very, very strong, The word is ‘dominate.’ If you don’t dominate your city and your state, they’re gonna walk away with you. And we’re doing it in Washington, in DC, we’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before … But we’re going to have total domination.” Democracy will be replaced with Fascism when he executes his plan.
The nation must face the racial issue that it has avoided since slavery was abolished. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to raise the issue of police violence has renewed significance, like the corona virus, kneeling on Floyds neck stopped him from breathing and resulted in his death. The nation can no longer be complicit with white supremacy.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)