Historic Racism in America: George Floyd’s Remarkable Global Justice Solidarity
Author: Jerry Locula
In the wake of ongoing protests in the United States in demand for justice in the killing of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer, a social justice activist has insisted that the protests are legitimate. Jerry Locula highlights the historical racism and mistreatment of black people in America for the last four hundred years. It looks at how policing was associated with the transatlantic slave trade in the deep South; particularly, how white men were empowered to serve as vigilantes in responding to salves who escaped or attempted to escape. The article reveals that four centuries on, the culture has existed in law enforcement and the oppression has continued against black people; and that George Floyd’s case is the straw that broke the camel’s back. In his view, Jerry Locula maintains that the time has come for change in America, because enough is enough.
Coronavirus and the ongoing protests
First, concerns of a potential new wave of coronavirus spread amid these protests is something to highlight. I mean protests in solidarity for George Floyd. These are very difficult and critical times in America and around the world. Protests in major cities in the United States over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer took a different turn in the coronavirus lockdown measures. The lockdown enforcement has been going on in countries all over the world including the United State since March 2020.
According to state authorities and public health officials, the lockdowns which take into consideration social distancing, wearing of face masks as well as quarantine at home and frequent hands washing, are major health protocols intended to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Medical experts believed that the quarantine at home is essential because the fewer contact people have with each other over a reasonable period of time, there is a far less likely the virus would spread (Gavi, 2020). For the sake of the public good, I believe that these regulations are explicitly important.
But until 25 May 2020, state governors in America were still and, on the papers, are still enforcing the shelter in place against the spread of the coronavirus, even though some selected businesses were or are beginning to reopen. However, that totally changed when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across America to demand justice in the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis when a white policeman, Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes (Thorbecke, 2020). George Floyd is alleged to have presented a fake US$20 at a local store in Minneapolis where he had shopped cigarettes. The store clerk then called the police to intervene.
The midwestern city of Minneapolis, in Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed has been the epicenter of the protests. Since Monday, 25 May 2020, the day George Floyd was killed, the lockdown has not been effectively enforced as demonstrators have been seeing mingling with each other as opposed to health and social distancing regulations in respect to the coronavirus pandemic.
Consequently, health experts are now sounding alarm bells that if a new wave of coronavirus should spark, it might definitely be one attributing factor due to violations of these health procedures during the protests (Olson, 2o20).
As a social justice activist, I am concern about the right to health of all persons. I want good health for everyone. I am worried when these health specialists are sounding the bells. Nevertheless, the thirst for justice for George Floyd, and centrally; for all black people in America and those who continue to experience oppression elsewhere in the world must never be taken frivolously.
But where do I find myself in times like these? Should protesters call-off the demonstrations to avoid the potential spread of the COVID-19? Will there be justice for George Floyd and all black people in America if there are no protests and uprising for justice? These are the fundamental questions demonstrators and advocates are asking; yet the drum for the demand for justice in George Floyd’s case continues to grow louder.
United States a superpower, but racism is its’ evil
America is the single most powerful nation on earth. Its’ cutting age technology, military, science, economy, infrastructure and democracy may have no march anywhere on the face of the planet. Many countries even look to the United States for cooperation, security and leadership. But in my view, it is the worst place for racism, subjugation, discrimination, inequality and injustice against black people. Racism is the evil America possesses. This is perhaps unthinkable; especially in a 21st century world.
The truth is, racism and the oppression of black folks is not only endemic, but historical in America and the west. It dates back as far as four hundred years. Poverty and unequal opportunities have left African Americans wondering whether they are part of the “We the People of the United States,” as vibrantly transcribed in the very opening page, the preamble of United States’ Constitution.
Now, I am sure when the founding fathers of the country and framers of the Constitution mentioned, “We the People of the United States”, they meant ALL the people whether black or white, immigrants and Indians.
However, if they didn’t mean the inclusion of black people when they said, “We the People of the United States” (Jackson, 1787, p. 3) either as a result of oversight, or because they too were racists, or simply because they had no alternative word for the pronoun “We”, I think after four centuries, and in modern America; the scheme of racism should have been over by now. In such a modern era, America is a place where everyone – black and white, Hispanic and Asian, immigrants and Indians should have equal opportunities. Racism shouldn’t have any place in the 21st-century civilized world; especially in the United States of America where all good things are perceived to be possible. Racism should be unthinkable in America, a country where freedom, liberty, and justice are at the heart of its democracy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. on repulsive treatment of negros in America. Racism and the dreadful oppression of black people have been in the bloodline of America perhaps long before, during and after the slave trade. Nearly one year before his assignation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader had these words to tell America on NBC news network:
“White Americans must see that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. That is one thing that other immigrants’ groups having had to face. The other thing is, that the color became a stigma – American society made the negros’ color a stigma. America freed the slaves in 1863 through the emancipation proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, but gave the slaves no land, nothing in reality to get started on. At the same time, America was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and Midwest which meant that there was a willingness to give the white peasants from Europe an economic base. And yet it refused to give its’ black peasants from Africa who came here involuntarily, in chains, and had worked free for 244 years any kind of economic base. And so, emancipation for the negros was really freedom to hunger. It was freedom to the winds and rains of heaven. It was freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate and therefore, it was freedom and famine at the same time” (Vancour, 1967).
The civil rights icon continued, “And when white Americans tell the negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps, they don’t look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. Now, I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And many negros by the thousands and millions have been left bootless as a result of all of these years of oppression, and as a result of a society that deliberately made his color a sigma and something worthless and degrading,” (Vancour, 1967). Those were the candid words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The ill-treatment of black people in America has triggered poor education, low-class neighborhoods, drug addictions, abridged quality of life, deficiency, less economic opportunity, subordination complex, and inexpressible misery for blacks. I am personally convinced that if America had provided the foundation for economic freedom to black people as it did to European descents, America would have been better for everyone far before the 20th century and now.
I also believe that America as a liberated country that has one group of people within who are not liberated, has no liberation as a country. Liberation must be holistic. This is why there is a need for black liberation in America, and now is the time, even though it is long deferred.
White privilege has led the very white man to be blind to the alienation black people endue in America. But it is time for all moral minds and hearts to be vocal about the issue and ensure that black people are accorded the same rights and privileges white Americans have.
I agree with Dr. King as presented above. It is because America from the onset refused to give economic liberation to freed slaves that have entangled black people in sustained economic crisis. And so, today, the low-quality housing problem black people face in America, is an economic issue. The challenges black people face in America with insurance, is an economic issue. The low quality of education a huge majority of black people face in America, is an economic issue. The drug addictions black people are involved in America, is an economic issue. This is just the plain truth.
Otherworld leaders have shared the very sentiment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jacques Rene Chirac who served as President of France from 17 May 1995-16 May 2007, (Editors Encyclopedia Britannica, n. d) once alluded, “We bled Africa for four and a half centuries. We looted their raw materials, then we were told they are good for nothing. In the name of religion, their culture was destroyed, and now, as we must do things more elegantly, we steal their brain through scholarships. Then we see that the unhappy Africa is not in a brilliant condition, it does not generate elites. After being rich at his expense, we give him lessons” (Zaccheaus and Allan, 2016). This is the reality. This is not politics. Today, Africa faces brain drained and economic paralysis. Africans in Africa, Europe, America, and elsewhere recognize and feel this very occupation and domination.
The slave era and policing in America
Racism and oppression are deeply rooted in American history. Bigotry is so engrained in American law enforcement system. Research identifies that policing was intensely associated with the transatlantic slave administration in America; especially in the Southern States. White volunteers were often sanctioned to serve as vigilantes to enforce laws that were meant for escaping slaves (Rudoff, 2020) or possibly for slaves who were not cooperative, even if they were critically sick from brutal treatment or if they were distressingly humiliated.
According to the study, these white volunteers as vigilantes would go out searching for slaves who might have escaped (Rudoff, 2020). They would notoriously drag them back to their slaves’ camps. It is revealed that these white volunteers had no limit in regards to searches for runaway slaves, believing that they could be hiding in anybody’s home. These volunteers used iron hands to search any homes for that matter.
The killing and humiliation of black people is a reality that has been acutely entrenched in American society and law enforcement institutions for centuries. Ruthlessness against black people by white law enforcement officers has been a long time coming.
In proceeding years following the height of the slave trade, policing under municipalities, sectional, and other political and geographical establishments were being organized. And most of these police forces were predominately white. Their central focus was to respond to disorder. That aggressive culture of handling slaves was consequently enrolled into successive policing. A criminologist from Eastern Kentucky University, Gary Potter writes, “officers were expected to control a dangerous underclass that included African Americans, immigrants and the poor” (Rudoff 2020).
Therefore, with such policy that targeted the black people who were also marginalized and poor, only gave rise to discrimination and propelled oppression against them. The hostility perpetuated against black people continued from the very inception of the slave trade in the fifteen hundred or probably prior to, up to the twentieth century and now.
Recent remarks by a Tulsa white Police Major, stating that police shoot fewer black people than they should be doing (Ross, 2020) further confirmed the deeply rooted racial prejudice in law enforcement in America. If a police force; and especially a high-profile police commander that is responsible for internal security of citizens and residents has such racial bias, it is regrettably not only a sad situation, but a dangerous perspective.
From all indications, police in America needs reconstruction from the inside-out. Police in America needs renewal and curing, because police brutality against black people is absurd in any modern society. For the police to be better law enforcement entity in America and to meet 21st century fundamental human rights standards, it requires both deconstruction and reconstruction. It must train new breeds of young people with the necessary instrument that is central to human rights to carry on.
In my mind, the agenda of training new police force in America in addition to police reform, will help drastically curtail the vicious violence demonstrated against black people. Also, this will not only be in the interest of all Americans, but the whole world given the fact that America collaborates with many countries around the world in sharing intelligence, other security matters including the fight against terrorism, training, international cooperation and development.
Protests for justice
The ongoing protests for justice in George Floyd’s case precedes the vindictive killing of couple of black people in America in recent years. An African American man, Eric Garner was chokehold (Sisak, 2019) and killed on 17 July 2014 in New York City borough of Staten Island at the hands of a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo from the New York City Police Department. No indictment was ever made. The killing of an 18-year-old African American, Mike Brown (Charlton, “et al”2014) on 9 August 2014 by a white police officer, Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy on 12 February 2012 in Sanford, Florida (Sentinel, 2012) by a white police officer, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted.
The mentioned killings are just very few cases of the murder of African Americans in recent years by white law enforcement agents in America. These are some indicators of how brutal America is in terms of racial profiling and injustice; especially against black people.
With these cited killings of black people and the protests for justice, millions are firmly doubting any credible or tangible outcome in terms of criminal prosecution, law reform and equal opportunity for the black community. They attribute their cynicisms for justice to the fact that countless protests against painful police cruelty on black people haven’t ushered in any accountability, nor police reform or change in any policy.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the recent Black Lives Matter Movement have all given birth in the wake of black people oppression and marginalization in the United States. The Black Lives Matter Moment was created in 2013 by three black community organizers and activists (Garza 2014) following the exoneration of George Zimmerman, the killer of 17 years old Trayvon Martin.
The need for justice and reform
In my view and also historically, in America; if a person commits crime; or let say, if anyone of any background or color is killed and the alleged killer is known, he is arrested and prosecuted. But if a white policeman kills black person, even if there are dozens of attestations including eyewitness accounts, photographs and video evidences, the status quo has remained the same. No actions are taken, and if actions are taken, they are only administrative or disciplinary actions equivalent to a write up, paid administrative leave while investigation continues.
In George Floyd’s case, there is urgency for real justice. George Floyd’s right to life (UDHR, 1948) was grossly violated by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, who by virtue of his duty on behave of the state supposed to protect lives. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that is binding on all its’ states’ parties, notes in article 6, “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life” (ICCPR, 1976, p. 4). This is an international human right principle all civilized nations ascribe to including the very United States who is a state’s party to this treaty (OHCHR, 1996). The United States signed the ICCPR on 5 October 1977 with its ratification and accession on 8 June 1992.
Prosecutor charged Derek Chauvin
Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Few days later, the charges against Chauvin were upgraded to second-degree murder amidst protests. That same day, three other police officers, Chauvin’s colleagues who stood by and watched without intervening were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter (Royes, 2020).
But the question remains, how far will this case go when one compares previous fatal cases of black people involving white cops? Charging the officers is one thing and the law or the court finding them culpable is another. Accountability, reforming the laws and upholding the constitution is what matters. That is the urgency at the moment.
However, already, there are skepticisms in many quarters that prosecutors may find it difficult to prove charges (McCarthy, 2020) against these white cops. Nevertheless, all eyes are now on the office of the Hennepin County Prosecutor in Minnesota and subsequently, the court to deliver justice.
George Floyd may have been the nastiest drugs addict; he may have been the worst criminal, he didn’t deserve the manner in which he died. He needed to face independent justice if he had done anything wrong. Floyd still needs justice, even as he was laid to rest on Tuesday, 9 June 2020 in Houston Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Suburban, Pearland, Texas.
Is this genocide?
There is a need for reform in the police law than ever before and overhauling the entire criminal justice system in America that continues to exterminate and incarcerate black people. In my view, the unprecedented incarceration, brutality, systemic and structural violence directed against black people in America is not only horrendously oppressive, but it is what I called, “a smart genocide”. The United Nations Genocide Convention clearly says what constitutes genocide in article II. Which includes “Killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” (UN Genocide Convention, 12 Jan, 1951. P.1).
If these horrific acts against black people don’t end; if nothing is done in terms of law reform and policy development at all layers of the society and with strong political will from every corner of America including from Washington, the future will remain austere for black people for inexpressible generations to come. But yet, the chaos will continue and will give rise to acrimonious unrest, and may even lead to the fall of America from within.
People are taught to be racists
People are taught to be racists. It grows in families and becomes a heritage. In February 2020, a friend of mind, Nicolas told me that his dad was very racist. This is something I am sure might be difficult to disclose; especially to someone like me who comes from the victims’ group. Nicolas is in his mid-eighties. We attend fellowship together. He told me that he often noticed that his father’s countenance would quickly change each time he saw a black person.
Amongst many instances, he cited that he and his dad once walked past a black guy standing with a white girl somewhere in Milwaukee. Immediately, his father’s face turned red and said, “What is she doing with that damn black guy?” Nicolas told me that he learned to hate black people simply because his father had taught him so. However, after years of Christian teachings about the radicle message of Jesus, Nicolas said that he now tries his best to tolerate black people.
So, you see, generations are taught to hate. To hate or to be racist just don’t come automatically. People learned to stigmatize people of color. The same way people are taught to hate, they can also be taught to love.
Face-to-face with racism
I too, have personally experienced some forms of racism in the United States and elsewhere by white people.
In 2010, I took a weekend break to Thermomania, a popular resort destination in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. It has chain of thermal swimming pools having its’ source running from the hot volcano mountains. There were some white Americans whom we all had arrived together at the same time.
On that sunny Saturday afternoon, I delayed entering the pool for couple of minutes. But by the time I set foot in the pool they were in, hurriedly, they jumped out simply because they could not accommodate being in the same swimming pool with a black guy. I saw it in their faces. I was the only black person at the pool at that moment. They chose to go in another pool without a black person. That was shameful of them! And I thought they were sick!
Another encounter was in Wisconsin. In July 2007, I visited Milwaukee with a white friend, Sue. As we walked down the streets on our way to the art museum by the Mississippi River, some white guys sitting on the upstairs porch of a condo, began shouting and questioning me, “Hey, you nigger, what are you doing with her?” I didn’t remark, but I smiled. Sue supported me by telling me not to give them credence. But I thought they were sick!
Again, in December 2018, a white guy went after me in Iowa City; as I walked to Staples at 820 S Riverside Dr to purchase a 2019 daily planner and organizer. He stopped me and demanded that I give him the bongo (opium/drugs) I was carrying. I asked him, “Why he thinks I am carrying bongo?” He replied, “Because, you are black and you, black people are known for carrying bongo.” I only told him, “No sir, I am not carrying what you are asking for.” But I thought he was sick!
Despite all these humiliations, I have always encouraged and maintained these truths about black people: “Black people are powerful! Black people are people with incredible resilience! Black people are beautiful people! “Nothing wrong with being black, but there is something wrong with being racist. Those who are racists, are those who are sick. It is painful for being hated, but shameful and disgraceful for being a racist.”
Not all white people maybe racists
The pervasive act of racism exhibited by white Americans against black societies is despicably disappointing. Now, please don’t get me wrong. Not all white people maybe racists. Let’s also not come to the table with casting guilts and commendations.
I am associated with some white people who have helped to champion the cause of black people. I know them by names, and I know them by contents of their minds. I have lived with several white American families in 2016, 2018, 2019, and even now; 2020 and I have earned tremendous respect and support from them. They have treated me so well that I sometimes get to forget my personal dark experience of racism. These are white Americans who are positive lights in a world that sees black people so negatively. There are really supper great white people who don’t mind about skins’ colors or creed because they have the fear and love of God. I say bravo to them!
From the dawn of the civil rights moment to contemporary campaigns including the Black Lives Matter movement, I see countless white people whose solidarity have helped the momentum for the fight against racial injustice. I see them in the marches. I see them carrying placards. I imagine the lobby efforts they have made in the highest places of American government. This gives me hope. But until there is concrete political will, impartial criminal justice system and legal reform on the situation of racism and law enforcement in America, I am not optimistic. And until equal opportunity is granted to black people, America will continue to see its’ streets crowded with protests and perhaps some stiffer ones. Until white cops stop targeting and killing black people, America will never lead with good example. Until white cops can stop killing African Americans, America will never have absolute legitimacy in good international policing culture.
The America dream
Outside of America, I have heard black parents and families, some very affluent; tell their children about the perceived American dream and want to move to America for their children to experience this one professed American dream. Young people with exuberant spirits will definitely want to hear about the American dream and to live the American dream.
However, with all of what is happening in America against people of color, what will parents tell the young ones about the American dream when black people are being murdered by those who supposed to protect them? What do they explain to their children about the American dream if they were to walk down the streets and realize white cops going after them? What’s the justification parents will give to their kids about the American dream if they go to class and understand that they don’t have the same privileges as their white classmates? What do parents say to their young children about the American dream if a five-year-old child tells his father he is afraid of the white policemen because they are killers of black people? The American dream! The American dream!! The fact of the matter is, there is no equality in living the American dream! This too, must come at end.
Protests, not violence
Protests in George Floyd’s killing have been going on in America since 25 May 2020 in demand for justice, accountability, and reform. From California to New York, from the twin’s cities [Minneapolis/St. Paul] to Washington DC, and all over; there are ongoing protests and calls for justice.
Not only that the demonstrations have taken place in major cities in the United States, but outside America as well. Protests have taken place in London, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Poland, New Zealand, and elsewhere in demand for justice for George Floyd, and all black people. In London, protesters demanded the bringing down of status and all symbols of injustice and colonialism.
The indignations we see in the streets only tell America that enough is enough. When people protest, they protest for law reform and change in policies for the common goods of all. Four hundred years of control and domination have only left black people miserably oppressed and disconsolate.
The struggle against racism has been a long time coming. This article didn’t delve much into the history of what happened to black people in terms of slavery of pre-1619. But studies show that in 1619, “twenty black people arrived off the coast of Virginia, where they were bought by English colonists in Jamestown” (Anti-Slavery, 2019). Slave ships transported black people from Africa to the West to work on farms, railroads, and plantations. Smaller boats were docked on costal shoes in Africa that carried captured slaves to slave ships deep seas. (see endnote for slave trade in South Saharan Africa in the fourteenth to sixteenth hundred by European countries using slave ships to transport Africans)
Nearly one hundred years prior to 1619’s arrival of African salves on America’s shores, in 1526, historical chronicle tells that an invasion led by Spanish men in what is present day South Carolina had some slaves from Africa. So, it’s no secret that exploitation and suppression against black people have been a living nightmare intensely rooted in hundreds of years history.
In my mind, there is nothing horrendously cruel that will ever be compared to the atrocities, generational human suffering, psychological and physical pain associated with the transatlantic slave trade brutality. This eccentricity has never and will never place America and other western countries involved in the ruthless slave trade on a splendid path or better page of history. As a result of the generational anguish and dehumanization black people encountered from the slave trade and still being marginalized, there is need for not only genuine apology, but an ardent reparation.
The culture of injustice has lasted for too long that it has to stop – yes, it must stop! All lives matter, if black lives matter. We are all God’s children, no matter the color of our skins. We are all God’s children no matter our different believes and social orientations. The Constitution of the United States and other international legal instruments on the equality of all men must be upheld. Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (UDHR, 1948).
As a social justice activist, I am in support of peaceful protests in demand for justice. These protests are legitimate. Any country including the United States that boasts of democracy and yet experiences frequent protests, vandalisms and indignations, must rethink that democracy. Of course, let’s not lose sight that protests are relevant tenets of democracy, but when these are persistence, that means the system must check itself. A true democracy cannot tolerate racial injustice and oppression. A true democracy protects freedom, celebrates unity, solidarity and justice. And a true democracy will denounce anything associated with what happened to George Floyd and ensures that it never happens again.
In the course of these demonstrations, I heard of the deployment of national guards. Let me remind all of us, if enough is enough; if the people are resolved for equality and justice, the positioning of national guards will only fuel these situations. It won’t stop the activists from pushing for justice. These people are coming together for justice. They are ready to stand up in order for pages of history to record that they once stood up so that racism would stand down.
When marginalized people are tried, they fear noting. No amount of force can stop them. The only force that stops them is the force of freedom and justice. In apartheid South Africa, when the blacks were tried of repression, no force of bulldozer stopped them. These protesters are exercising their American first amendment rights (First Amendment n. d).
Consequently, I praise the peaceful protests because they are elements of democracy. But democracy with deeply rooted racism, has no authenticity. This is why these protests are being held. Four hundred years of beatings, hangings, hard labors, killings, lynching is too long and too much. Enough is enough! I admire the solidarity these protests have ignited. This solidarity shows that noting can stand against the pursuit for equality. May this message resonate and reecho everywhere on earth where exploitation, injustice and oppression want to prevail.
Protests are held for public officials to take actions. But if protests failed to change any spoiled system, it is those in power who have failed their people. So, let the protests go on. Scriptures remind us that Jesus Christ overturned tables in anger over people’s mistreatment of a sacred place. Today, there may be no more sacred places than the body of one created by God. These protesters and especially black communities are eager for the arrival of true justice, freedom and the end of racism in America. George Floyd is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But I urge all demonstrators to disengage looting and obliteration. Vandalism and destructions will only undermine the very justice we are seeking. It is dishonorable for those who want to ignite violence and riots. I encourage protesters to stop burning your towns and cities, and be responsible citizens. Burning your cities; monuments and memories will further demoralize the justice we anticipate in the fight against racism and segregation in America.
For the policy makers, in times like these in America and anywhere, it is only responsible and true leadership that triumph. Leaders who strike the balance, and serve as unifier. Leaders and systems that listen and ensure justice. We are told by Scriptures, particularly in Proverbs 16:12 that ‘Kings cannot tolerate evil, because justice is what makes a government strong.’ But if these protests for justice fail, only one weapon the people do have, and that weapon is the votes of the people. The protests are for the due applicability of true justice.
I therefore, encourage all Americans far and near to rise up and vote. Vote at every level. From the township to the county; from municipality to the city, from the electoral districts to the states and the presidency. Rise up and make your voices heard through your votes. Your votes are not only your civil rights to exercise, but your power for change for a better tomorrow. This populous upraising is a call for justice so that hideous racism and oppression of black people will come to an end in America.
I am aware that change won’t happen overnight, but the first steps must be taken. Steps for sweeping police reform that makes it legally prudent and feasible to sue police for misconducts. Steps to train new breeds of police with high sense of morality. Steps to rip up structural violence in all sectors of American society.
These protests are not only about George Floyd, but far before and beyond George Floyd. These protests are about more than four hundred years of injustice. It’s about black folks leaving their homes in the morning and wondering whether they will return. These marches are about police brutality against black people that occur daily. It is about the racial inequality in America directed against black people by the police and people alike. These protests are meant for the United States to take the necessary actions to better the lives of black people.
United States as a democracy solely understands that protests are fundamental democratic capitals. However, without hesitation, let me mention that dictatorial regimes in North Korea, somewhere in Africa, elsewhere in South America and the Middle East, where citizens maybe barred from protesting, if protests occurred in any democracy, but remained unsuccessful in bringing change, that democracy only exists by name. That is only a democracy by paper, but autocracy in reality.
America’s fingerprint is everywhere around the globe as leader of the free world and architect of modern democracy. The moment has arrived, America. This is examination time, and the world looks to see the new horizon for reform and equality that all black people before this generation and generations to come so desired.
As the protest sweeps across the United States for racial justice with no sign of ceasing, on Sunday, 7 June 2020, a breaking news trended the media that majority – nine out of thirteen members of Minneapolis City Council have vowed to disband the police department (Folley, 2020). These members announced their decision and said they would work with local community to replace the department of police with what they termed as ‘new of public safety’.
The next day, Monday, 8 June, congressional democrats in Washington DC were poised to unveil a nationwide police legislation aimed at overhauling police operation and administration (Grisales, “et al,” 2020) in the United States.
Earlier, on 5 June, Michael Jordan, an African American, former professional basketball legend and prime proprietor of the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association, pledged the donation of 100 million dollars to “organizations dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education” (Poujoulat, 2020).
While George Floyd was never an icon, his death has made him an icon. His death has sent a clear message everywhere on earth for racial justice. As his funeral procession was being held (Collinson, 2020) police policies in America were being scrutinized and institutions where no concrete actions were ever taken to address racism are taking a second look in the mirror.
The National Football League (NFL) came out and acknowledged that over the years, it didn’t listen to the pain black players faced (Melas, 2020) in cases of hate and racial profiling.
An editor from the media empire, The New York Times was booted out following an editorial he published calling for troops deployment to deal with protesters.
At the same time, across the Atlantic, in Great Britain, there are urgent calls for symbols of colonialism to be brought down.
In Minneapolis where George Floyd died, apart from the remarkable spirit of solidarity and continued protests, advocates and sympathizers have been suggesting a possible memorial to remember him. Leaders, particularly from Minneapolis City Council, too have taken the discussions back and forth to the community and to their cabinet for the possibility of memorializing George Floyd following the attainment of some grants (TMZ, 2020).
If this is the beginning of the new America or new world that will end the racist culture against back people, particularly in law enforcement and states institutions, it is a welcome development. We can only wait and see.
Despite that, the struggle for black liberation continues. We all must stand up. We all must speak up. We all must take actions, because every fight for the advancement of humanity is a good fight, but the fight for human rights, justice and freedom is worth fighting.
For hundreds of years, black people have experienced racial profiling and enormous cruelty in America. And, America being the acclaimed proponent of democracy and seeing as the world’s greatest democracy, in realistic wisdom, what firm legitimacy it has to tell country like Myanmar to guarantee the rights of the Rohingya people if it hasn’t for black people?
What moral rectitude does America have to tell greater Europe, and parts of South America, Australia and India about the rights of the Roma people who have for long been subjected to abuse, denunciation, exclusion and discriminations? We must live by examples.
If America is home of the world’s premium democracy, it must lead exemplarily. It is a tragedy that America hasn’t been able to find solution to these abuses black populations have faced for centuries.
America has been having its knee in the neck of African Americans for too long. America looted both material and human resources from Africa, demonize the culture and vandalized the system. Injustice and exclusion of black people have been for a long four excruciating centuries. The justice black people in America are yarning for today is long overdue. In my mind, if the industrious revolution hadn’t given birth, I can only imagine that black people would have still being subjected to the hideous treatment of the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth and up to the mid eighteenth hundred. Freedom, justice and human rights for all, is key.
White supremacists are attributing the march for justice as violence. These protests are not violence. Violence is when you oppress and marginalize a group of people for centuries. Violence is when you are beating and shooting unarmed black people without accountability. Violence is when you put your knee in the neck of an unarmed black man who cries for help and tells you, “I can’t breathe,” (Gindodiya, 2020) but killed him anyhow. Violence is when the system of injustice against black people lasts forever.
More than four centuries have come and gone, generations have come and passed, life is still far from getting any better for African Americans in the United States and other parts of the Western world in terms of racial justice. This has to stop – it must come to an end!
“I can’t breathe”. Those were the words of George Floyd as he powerlessly and hopelessly beseeched under Derek’s hard knees pressed deep into his neck. The pain and futile struggle associated with those three words were agonizing.
Today, those three words have become an echoing countenance against suffering, racial injustice and marginalization. But these three words – the expression, “I can’t breathe,” has become iconic and reverberated across the world even in the darkest corridor of hate and suppression.
May these last words “I Can’t breathe,” of George Floyd shield light on the malicious racism, abysmal oppression, infamous discrimination and hostile injustice long perpetuated against African Americans for centuries. May white racist Americans and violent white police forces and the far-right government take its’ knee off the neck of black people.
Slave ships: As part of an African Civil Society Actors trainees in peacebuilding, we visited Ghana Elmina Castle in 2008. The team toured through the castle’s open, rainy and wet walls. One major section of the castle is ‘The door of no return’. Through a narrow path entering a corridor attached to the door of no return, salves were kept here for weeks and months waiting to walk through the door of no return to the sea. Here, slaves were chained by slave agents and placed on smaller boats and taken to slave ships far at seas and never to return to Africa nor ever to be connected with their communities, family members, friends and loved ones forever. The tour guard, a Ghanaian Historian narrated that the Portuguese first built the castle and named it Castelo da Mina in 1482 and traded there for over a century. But in 1637, the Dutch occupied it and renamed it Elmina Castle and had it as its major base for slave trade in South Saharan Africa.
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Jerry Locula hails from the West African State of Liberia. He is a peace, human rights and social justice activist, and former Human Rights Officer of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. His nearly six years of work in South Sudan was primarily monitoring and documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity and advocating for the rule of law. Jerry’s technical expertise assisted South Sudan Central Equatoria State’s Assembly to enact “Girl Child Education Art” consequently guaranteeing the rights of girls to education in that country. While in South Sudan, he helped fostered grassroot peace initiative between fighting forces and saw the return of peace in Yei River State. Back in his home country, Liberia, Jerry worked with the Independent National Commission on Human Rights as Director for the Department of Complaints Investigation and Monitoring where he spearheaded major investigations and reported on high profile cases of human rights violations in the country. He also worked with the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programme of the Lutheran Church in Liberia as Human Rights and Governance Officer at which time he conducted training in conflict resolution and human rights for crossed sessions of the populations including law enforcement personnel, traditional and community leaders. He led efforts in settling major land disputes between towns and villages in Liberia that resulted in peaceful coexistence. In 2005 and 2011 presidential and general elections in Liberia, Jerry traveled all over the country teaching citizens; especially women and young people about not only their rights to vote, but the power of their votes. Currently, Jerry is Founder and CEO of the Locula Foundation; a nonprofit organization he has set up to promote social justice, human rights and empower communities in Liberia. Jerry holds Master’s in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Please note that all opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not represent the official position of the University for Peace