Amidst deadly pandemic, a wave of pain and outrage over the killing of George Floyd has gripped the United States. People across America and beyond are grappling with grim realities of police brutality.
The ugly scenes of police ramming their cruisers into protestors while swinging batons and scuffling with them, has highlighted the longstanding and flagrant disregard for Black Americans that has been woven into the fabric of the United States since its founding.
However, the murder of Floyd is not just another addition to an excruciating history of oppressive violence against Black people in America. Their routine abuse and killing at the hands of police are not new, but the discourse around them does seem to have shifted with the George Floyd “I can’t breathe” video.
His last words—as police officer chokeholds him and is unmoved by the smartphone-wielding bystanders who captured the murder live—have galvanized an enormous protest movement that rejects brutal police misconduct as well as shameless display of hatred and force.
Slate, a popular contrarian online magazine, published an up-front headline “Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide” depicting an assemblage of documented videos about police cruelty across various protesting cities in US. One of the ghastly videos filmed a man shoved by policemen to the ground and blood spurting from his head as police patrols unruffled.
Slate also carried a reflective piece ‘America Gasps for Air’ weaving a metaphorical narrative around last words of Floyd “I can’t breathe” and the gross erosion of American example and, concurrently, the American power. The piece extends the predicament to rest of the world–“You can’t breathe when the world is on fire.
And you can’t breathe when you are unable to stop screaming with anger, frustration, and fear. You can’t breathe when you are sobbing or terrified.”
Similarly, commenting upon the prevailing affairs, the chief White House correspondent of The New York Times, Peter Baker, observed that 2020 has already also been compared to 1998 (impeachment), 1918 (a pandemic year), and 1929 (the Great Depression). Taken altogether, Baker noted, “What we are seeing, I think, is a year unlike that we’ve seen in many many years. We’re undergoing a great national trauma.”
Baker foresees 2020 for his country ever more like a “Great National Trauma” as the uproar reveals multifaceted impact of systemic injustices. In fact, there is an International Trauma of this kind inflicting all parts of the world.
There are various versions of it. From basic right to life to other human rights, world is in the throes of challenging structural prejudices and unfairness. There is very less differential in etiology and morphology of such trauma across the globe.
Be it shrill streets of Hongkong; smoked lanes of Gaza; razed homes of Syria; charred corpses of Rohingya; dead of Delhi riots floating in gutter; or nearer home, the mortar shelled bodies and buildings of Kashmir—what is atrociously not alike? There is literally no air to breathe! It is hard to absorb the enormity of tumultuous events.
The daily life is filled with both macro and micro aggressions. The clampdown of all sorts is suffocating and suppressive.
From a 14-year-old boy Basim Aijaz of downtown who became the recent casualty of violent conflict in Kashmir to a 9-year-old Owais Ahmad from Pulwama who lost his eyes to pellets a few weeks ago—the structures of power have certain common mechanisms of control. George Floyd died murmuring-“I can’t breathe”. Owais Ahmad sobs in darkness-“I hate light.
It increases my pain.” All Lives Matter! But reality is otherwise. Here and beyond.
Bottomline: Reacting to property destruction by protesters, Minneapolis Mayor said, “Brick and mortar is not as important as life” and certain observers alluded to the Boston Tea Party and the Stonewall Riots as elemental to social change in America.
This is unlikely in some third-world pockets where shooting takes place even without looting; armored vehicles crush down people to death without any violent provocation; men vanish in custody; and people get buried unknown. More dissimilar is the freedom of expression and no gag on social media.
Even as journalists are heckled and briefly arrested, Americans can still speak up. Political bigotry hasn’t trounced the whole gamut of civil liberties and tolerance for dissent is not entirely shut out.