11th March 2021
Writing: Amal Shakir (Year 12)
Editing: Ben Corby (Year 11)
‘I can’t breathe’ is what George Floyd pleaded more than 20 times to Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who had knelt on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd pleaded for his mother while his nose had started bleeding, and around six minutes on he had become unresponsive. Bystanders urged officers to relieve the pressure off of his neck in order to check for a pulse, another officer at the scene - Officer Keung - did so, and found nothing. Within the hour Floyd was proclaimed dead.
We are all familiar with this story, whether through the news, articles, social media, or through the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that had taken place all over America - as well as other parts of the world - last year. Many would argue that these large-scale marches, demonstrations and speeches are a new thing, just another surprise item to add to 2020’s twisted itinerary. The uncomfortable truth is that police violence against African-Americans is woven into the fabric of American society and history, a systematic issue that has been there from the very beginning.
‘I can’t breathe’ is what Eric Garner pleaded 11 times to officers holding him in a chokehold over the suspected selling of illegal cigarettes six years ago, on the 17th July 2014. In response to this, BLM protests sprouted all over America, a year after the movement’s formation. Michael Brown was unarmed when he was shot six times upon reports of a stolen box of cigarettes on the 9th of August 2014. The officer involved was not prosecuted. The BLM movement only grew, leading to civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Philander Castile was shot and killed in his car, with his girlfriend next to him. He was pulled over on a routine check. The police shot Castile as he reached for his license, on the assumption it was a firearm - 6th of July 2016. And now more recently, on the 13th March 2020: Breonna Taylor. A medical technician serving during the rampant spread of the COVID pandemic, she was shot eight times when officers raided her Louisville apartment on the suspicion of drugs. There were no drugs found.
In my opinion, a consistent pattern of unjustified violence from the police has sparked long-overdue debates on the mindset police training creates and diversifying response teams - though that is a topic for another day. I would argue that a stigma of assumed violence still hangs over the African-American community. Born from white supremacist ideologies that are still rampant within America, vilifying minority groups and fostering a twisted and ignorant sense of patriotism. This could not have been more evident or better demonstrated when the Capitol in Washington D.C was stormed.
The insurrection in the heart of American democracy does not bode well for the future of the country that proclaims to be at the forefront of those very ideals. A violent mob grew outside the building as the Electoral College votes were about to be certified. The members of the crowd stoked each other on, aiming to disrupt the democratic proceedings within, blindly impassioned by the then-President Donald Trump's recent speech only hours earlier - until the flames licked over and burnt into the Capitol.
Though these events are unsettling and depressing, America still seems far off from us in the UK. Why have BLM protests rooted in London and across the country? Though now is not the time to delve into the long history of racism in the UK, you can start by reading up on the Bengal Famine and Winston Churchill.
Finally, we’re on the other side of Joe Biden’s inauguration, and for many within marginalised communities, there has been a sense of peace and respite. However, though Trump may be gone, and despite Twitter suspending him - the population that originally voted him in has not disappeared. Conspiracies and fear-mongering are still being spread by what is just under a half of America’s voting population. You could argue that racism, islamophobia, homophobia and other hateful ideologies are still interweaved within America and will not disappear without a collective effort to listen, learn and discuss.
But for the moment, while we wait for what comes next, all we can do is educate ourselves, discuss difficult topics with others, and put in the effort to work towards a brighter, more equal future.