A minority of social media users have voiced dismay that West Indians are fixated on opining about the injustice of George Floyd’s death due to police brutality.
Some West Indians complain that Caricom nations also face issues of racial inequality, exemplified in our young black men being profiled by the police. Nevertheless, the continuum of injustice perpetuated by the US police in their treatment of young African American males is unprecedented in the African diaspora.
Also, many West Indians have families in the US and fear a future in which their relatives will face systemic discrimination. Furthermore, the US has a proven track record of admonishing developing nations that perpetrate human rights abuses.
It is therefore crucial for equitable discourse on global civil society that we analyse the possible reasons for police brutality in the US.
My first argument to justify the outrage of US protesters is linked to the fact that the US police have been responsible for the gruesome deaths and beatings of many black men through the unwarranted use of force. The Rodney King beatings led to the LA riots of 1992, which I considered to be a watershed moment to probe and reform institutionalised racism.
But I was distracted by the rise of black entertainment and the emergence of black politicians and Supreme Court judges. The audacity of hope that Barack Obama’s presidency ushered in was countered by an onslaught of police attacks on young black men.
In fact, from January 2015 to now, there have been 1,252 black men who have shot and killed by the police. This figure excludes those who died in police custody and those who were killed by other police methods.
The reasons for US law enforcement’s choice of questionable treatment of blacks do not stack up with reality. Floyd was suspected of using a counterfeit US$20 note. The unreasonable suspicions of black men paint a picture of a skewed justice system.
Secondly, African Americans remain socially marginalised by the police in spite of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After signing such key legislation, US President Lyndon Johnson himself lamented that the US government and even the civil rights movement needed to focus on education and poverty reduction. Sadly, Johnson’s policy of a “War on Poverty” was not sustained by future presidents.
Disturbingly, the frustrations of the African American community that faces low wages, unemployment and under-employment may highlight a sense of despair and hopelessness.
Thirdly, the African American community has been more susceptible to the Covid-19 shocks, in terms of morbidity and lay-offs.
So it is understandable that some African Americans are disenchanted with the police and elements of the status quo.
To add insult to injury, some protesters may be angry with the insensitive US president who has offered generic platitudes rather than reconciling with a traumatised citizenry. Donald Trump’s verbal attacks on Mexicans, Muslims and scorn of African nations may have provoked antagonism to the president and, by extension, the established order.
I cannot condone the rioting and looting by angry mob. I admit this form of rebellion takes away from the genuine need to peacefully protest.
But we must appreciate that centuries of racism have never truly been addressed. Since the Washington March of 1963, Blacks are not able to truly proclaim: “Free at last!”