We can’t breathe: George Floyd death strikes global chord

The recent death of George Floyd, a 46 year old African American has caused anger and protest around the world. It is not enough to call it a death for it was certainly a custodial murder by the police officers, one of whom was seen pinning Floyd down with his knee.

As with Eric Garner murdered by police in New York City years ago, “I can’t breathe” were Floyd’s final words before he succumbed to the excessive force being used to hold him down even after it was obvious he had been subdued. The same words have become a slogan in the city of Minneapolis which is now witnessing sporadic violence and looting when peaceful protests demanding justice for Floyd turned violent, allegedly due to the same excessive police force used while trying to ‘disperse’ them.

It all began when Floyd was allegedly accused of using a forged $20 bill which is a felony and involves questioning the suspect and his alleged intent. But the CCTV footage and viral video says otherwise. The police officers present were brutish in their behaviour when taking Floyd into custody. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey even said this wouldn’t have occurred if the suspect was a White or European American person.

It is indeed murder. And it goes without saying that, even if we grant that George Floyd had committed a crime — which is apparently not proven — and even if he had initially resisted arrest, he did not deserve to be publicly executed by asphyxiation as he was.

The fact that the police officer’s colleagues did not intervene shows that this kind of procedure was not out of the ordinary for them.

This is not an isolated incident. The least that can be said is that excessive use of force is much too common in police departments around the country, common enough that we can accept it as proof that police departments cannot be trusted to police themselves.

All around the country, there should be strict, enforceable, and frequently enforced rules about how much force police officers are allowed to use against all suspects and especially against non-violent offenders. We should also mandate the wearing of body cameras whenever police officers are on the clock.

Right now, we have a reactive, whack-a-mole strategy of dealing with these events. We can’t just examine the nature of policing in America when someone dies or when something happens to be caught on camera. What we need is a proactive and systematic solution. Otherwise we will be right here again a few weeks or a few months hence, complaining of yet another instance of unwarranted police brutality.

I’m deeply saddened by what has happened over this week. I feel sorry for everyone involved. I feel sorry for Floyd, his family, and others hurting in the black community. I feel sorry for police officers that wear the badge with pride, are here to protect and serve all people, and are disgusted about what happened to Floyd, but now are stained by a few bad officers’ actions.

My heart goes out to the protestors that are protesting to protect our civil rights and are trying to root out the rioters that are using this situation to destroy our country. My heart also goes out to all of mom and pop store owners that have seen their businesses ruined by the looting. I couldn’t imagine almost losing your business due to the coronavirus, then having your store destroyed due to these riots, and finally being beaten in front of your store.

It’s a very sad time for America, but I do know we will learn from this experience and I know Floyd’s death won’t be in vain and hopefully, as Thurgood Marshall would do, the community can use this energy towards acts of good to prevent future atrocities like this from happening again.

In times of crisis, America’s level of polarization becomes abundantly clear. The American experience is a disparate one. It has been that way since it revolted against Great Britain’s rule and ultimately became an empire itself. Fair treatment from the government, its institutions, and the agents we as the principal are served by sounds good in theory. In practice though it often fails to materialize; excessive use of force by police against citizens (people of color in particular) is a prime example.

When it comes to law enforcement the rebuttal that often ensnares the debate is the lack of outrage in relation to black-on-black violence. As a strategy conflating these two issues has worked well, so well that speaking of one without the other hardly ever happens, especially in a public forum.

Unfortunately, it pulls attention away from the core issue (excessive use of force) and it reinforces the myth that African American’s are predisposed to criminality. Review of crime stats can quickly dispel this. Homicide is primarily intra-racial.

As an institution law enforcement reinforces the negative perception of the supposed small group of bad apples in their midst by closing ranks around them. Cops protect cops, whether that is through misrepresenting events in the police report or conducting crowd control while the life is snuffed out of a non-violent suspect.

Collectively the public must demand better; civil unrest has its place especially when it seems like nothing else is working. Institutions can change but it takes time. After being hated for 400 years I can assure you that black people have more patience than most. History shows that oppression always reaches an inflection point. I do not know if this is that point. One thing is certain there will be some weeping and gnashing of teeth along the way.

Saurav Dutt
Saurav Dutt is an Author, Political Columnist and Human Rights Campaigner. A journalist in three continents, his acclaimed debut novel 'The Butterfly Room' explored issues of domestic violence and homophobia within South Asian communities and has been showcased alongside leading political figures and human rights campaigners. Dutt writes for the International Business Times, The Times of Israel, Human Events, and American Herald Tribune as a syndicated political columnist. He has been featured by BBC, TIME, Sky News, Russia Today (RT).