Roar writer Haleema Ayyub on the recent death of George Floyd and the systemic issue of racism in America.
At the moment, we may be suffering from COVID-19 as a society; but the pandemic of racism and hatred towards black communities is not new or foreign. This hateful attitude towards black communities as they are victimised, oppressed, and scapegoated has been alive for centuries. The fight led by black people to gain equality in a society that has operated on white supremacy since its formation has been ongoing for many years. In our day and age, this antipathy towards the black community largely comes in the form of police brutality, for no other reason than the colour of one’s skin being synonymous in the police’s eyes, as threatening.
I am writing this in the wake of George Floyd’s death. A police officer had his knee on the man’s neck as he cried, “I can’t breathe.” The parallels of his death to that of Eric Garner in 2014, who also said these words as he was held in a chokehold by a police officer, are both chilling and heartbreaking.
While we see social media outrage and protests as these repeated incidences occur, the consequences for police officers or white perpetrators are never as severe as they should be. As reported in a BBC article from 2019, the NY officer involved in Eric Garner’s murder was only fired, not imprisoned. To some extent, officers are protected from being imprisoned in such cases, as they use the excuse that they “were defending themselves” before a “threat” had fully manifested. This comes down to how police officers are trained to act – the toxic thought that a black man is “guilty until proven innocent”.
And it is these racist thoughts that result in black men being killed. If any of these deaths were isolated incidences, it would be a different story. However, with the number of times incidences such as these are repeated, it is clear that some officers do not act responsibly with the privileges they are endowed. The upward trajectory of these acts of police brutality and white people acting as ‘vigilantes’ is not random. It comes down to the workings of a society that has racism and colonialism engrained, manifesting in the inhumane treatment of communities of colour.
While there is an issue in the American criminal justice system and how laws and police unions protect police, we cannot ignore the blatant racism and operation of white privilege that has become so embedded in society. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery featured ordinary white men who saw themselves as “vigilantes”, higher than the law. Similarly, there was the more recent incident involving Amy Cooper, who knew exactly what she was doing when she called the police saying, “an African-American man is threatening my life”. This incident highlights how white privilege can operate to one’s advantage in a corrupt way.
Therefore, there needs to be accountability in every community – the question, “how are we perpetuating this system of white supremacy and anti-blackness?” needs to be asked. Education and discussion about issues is vital. Furthermore, I acknowledge that one can feel powerless in the face of injustice and that posting about it can feel insignificant; But the communication and amplification of people’s voices have never been more important – that is how we can topple systems of oppression and prejudice, and enable people to act.