Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Black people have had to fight to exist in this world dating back further than the 16th century. We have seen black men literally suffocating at the hands of white policemen.
If we dig a little deeper, if we analyse this a little further, we will discover that this race has been subjected to prejudice for centuries and pleading to be accepted as simply human with the exact same privileges.
Racism in America, and around the world has existed since the colonial era. However, the focus in this article will be the United States, where white Americans were given legally or socially sanctioned privileges and rights during that period - rights that were denied to other races and minorities, which has resulted in their sense of ‘privilege’ and so-called ‘superiority’.
What is racism?
Racism, by definition, is “prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
Historically, racial and ethnical structured institutions and manifestations of racism have included slavery, genocide and segregation, to name a few.
Since time immemorial, racial and ethnic inequalities have overshadowed large parts of the American society. Ethnic minorities in the United States have faced, and continue to face structural barriers when it comes to securing quality housing, healthcare, employment,and education.Racial disparities also pervade the criminal justice system and undermine its effectiveness.
While formal racial discrimination was mostly banned by the mid-20th century and perceived by many as socially and morally unacceptable, racial politics remains a major issue and has become more contentious in recent years. Furthermore, racism continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality and discrimination at all levels, permeating all aspects of life throughout communities of ‘colour’ in America.
Police violence is a leading cause of death for young black people in the US
One cannot talk about police brutality in America without highlighting racism because sadly, one does not exist without the other. Racism is no different from any other chronic problem.It is like a virus with no cure. It recurs as long as it goes unchecked and for decades, it has been swept under the carpet like it is an unimportant matter, like it is an issue that has no leg to stand on.
Black people in America, for the most part, are powerless to stop racism, powerless to stop racial profiling and powerless to leave their homes confident that they will return. If they had a way that did not involve violent protests as a means of being heard, they would have done it a long time ago.
Martin Luther King Jr said in a speech in 1967, that “a riot is the language of the unheard”. For some reason it keeps reverberating because no lessons have been learnt in the last 53 years. America has not only failed to listen, but to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. It has failed to hear that significant parts of white society are more concerned about “tranquility and the status quo”, than about justice, equality and humanity. Now, I am not condoning violence because it breeds more harm than good, but when will America hear the cries of black Americans and those that stand with them in this fight against racism and police brutality?
While Americans of all races, ethnicities, ages, classes, and genders have been subjected to police brutality from as early as the 18th century, the great majority of victims have been African American.
Police brutality against blacks in America is a serious societal issue that is affecting the whole country in a major way. It insinuates that the use of unauthorised, discriminatory illegal, unjustified and unwarranted violence by police officers against civilians, specifically blacks, regardless of whether they are not in wrong is acceptable.
Though racism is a major cause of police brutality directed at African Americans and other ethnic groups, it is far from the only one. Other factors include the unique institutional culture of urban police departments, which emphasise group solidarity, loyalty, and a “show of force” approach to any perceived challenge to an officer’s authority, even when the person in question is showing no signs of resisting in some instances.
Furthermore, racial profiling is a systemic phenomenon across American society, dating back to the era of slavery. Until the 1950s, it was, in some instances, "codified into law". A study conducted by Domestic Human Rights Program of Amnesty International USA, found that racial profiling had increased from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to 2004, and that state laws had provided inconsistent and insufficient protections against racial profiling.The issue has gained special prominence in recent years because of numerous killings of young black people, targeted by police officers.
One of the main criticisms against the police across the states, is that they unfairly discriminate against black people, while being generally more lenient towards white people. The issue has become a matter of concern and has prompted movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM). The movement, has not only become a voice for the voiceless but a platform that is there to help fight the causes that black people are powerless to fight on their own.
The numbers keep rising
At least 107 people have been killed by police in the last decade, but one pressing issue of police brutality is that it often goes unaccounted for and in most cases, boils down to the word of a police officer against the word of a potential criminal.
Black people continue to face wrongful convictions and imprisonment as a result of discrimination. In some instances, a judge or jury might look at an African American's case with bias, or believe a white police officer’s claim of self-defence in an alleged murder, especially when there is no other evidence beyond the statements of witnesses. Yet, when a white man is involved, or commits a crime, it takes days, weeks or even months for some form of justice to be enacted, yet when a black man commits a crime, he is vilified, founded guilty and sentenced before he has even had a chance to defend himself in a court of law.
Another point of concern is the large number of killings that have taken place, involving black people between 2014 and 2020. Between 2014-2016, there were at least nine high-profile murder cases, yet only Eric Garner’s case has resulted in a conviction so far.
Eric Garner died in New York after Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, put him in a chokehold while arresting him.Video footage of the incident generated widespread national attention and raised questions about the inappropriate use of force by the police.
Almost six years on, Eric Garner, whose last words were, "I can't breathe," were uttered again by another black man,George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer placed his knee on his neck. Floyd was arrested last Monday after officers responded to a call about an alleged forgery in progress.
It begs the question why six years later this is still happening and why is it still taking authorities time before bringing the responsible police to justice.
The heartbreaking video of George Floyd being killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, which followed the murders of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky shows a total disregard for black lives. This raises the question as to how many more black people need to die before the American government acknowledges and resolves the problem?
We look at the case of Ahmaud Arbery. While he was not killed by the police, it still amounted to a hate crime, and effectively racism. What if Ahmaud had been white? What if the two white men who confronted and killed Ahmaud had been black? What if the graphic video showing a young man senselessly being murdered while on a Sunday afternoon jog had not gone viral but instead had been kept hidden?
We all know the answers and they have no positive outcome. Had Ahmaud been white and his killers black, it would not have taken the police in Georgia more than two months to be shamed into seeking some form of justice in the killing. However, because he was black, his life did not matter enough for any kind of justice to be sought.
When will those who have the power to do something stand up and say that racism is unacceptable, that people need to educate themselves and discard ignorance? The truth is, until change comes from the top and filters down across every part of America, there will be no change at all.
As long as America's government fosters racism things will never change
It is frightening to think that Donald Trump, who is the most powerful man in America is allowed to get away with saying: "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", a statement echoed in a December 1967 quote from Miami Police Chief Walter Headley.
The statement was used as a threat towards blacks in Miami and as part of his brutal "get tough policy" where he advocated the use of guns and dogs to stop civil rights protests. In the same vain, Donald Trump used this as a threat to dismantle the protests in America.
It is alarming to hear Headley's words repeated from the most powerful people in the US government and for as long as there is racism in the highest office, this very serious issue will continue to be swept under the carpet, violent protests will continue and another decade will pass with no lessons learned.
Enough is enough!
George Floyd may be the latest victim of police brutality but he needs to be the last. It is concerning to think that the people who are meant to serve and protect are the very people taking lives. It is even more saddening that those who uphold the oath of serving and protecting, are being painted with the same brush as the corrupt and racist policemen that are in the force.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has opened an investigation into Floyd's death, which will focus on whether the Minneapolis officers involved "willfully deprived him of a right or privilege protected by the constitution or laws of the United States. Nonetheless it is imperative that the charges that have been brought against Derek Chauvin are revisited because third degree murder is not justice and, is quite simply a mockery of black lives. It is also important that the other policemen who were involved are also investigated. They may not have directly suffocated George Floyd but they should be held accountable for their acts of omission.
Due to the rise of social media as a platform for raising awareness about police brutality and unequal treatment of African Americans, it may very well be the reason why issues of police brutality have been highlighted, why they are gaining attention, and why it is making it impossible for such heinous acts to go unpunished. However, it should not have to take videos going viral for crimes to be exposed.
Police brutality against African Americans is a very real social problem. A problem that protesters are addressing, that celebrities are addressing ,that social media platforms are addressing but, the people at the top need to take responsibility and start addressing the real issues that are dividing states across America.
It is time that the unlawful and unethical discrimination, persecution and abuse of millions of black Americans is addressed, It is time that they stop living in fear of this prejudice among the police.
Many police officers may consider black people as bigger threats than they really are, but it is high time that police departments across America realise that they are becoming bigger threats than those they accuse of being a threat. Incidents such as this must no longer be something that is swept under the carpet.
We cannot continue to regress as a world when we should be progressing. America’s history of racial oppression cannot continue to ruin the lives of ethnic minorities, because no one is superior on this earth.
Black people must not continue to feel like they are suffocating, or feel like they have to fight for their place in a world that is as much theirs as it is other races. For as long as there are ongoing cases and reports of police brutality, with no police facing consequences for their actions, it will only magnify the deep seated problems that are still present in the country. It is time for unity because a lot more needs to be done to eradicate racism and it begins with all of us.