‘Protestors see much more than an issue with the police force, they see an issue with the system.’ In this piece our CEO, Dan Lawes, illustrates his thoughts on why this particular case has catalysed such a powerful anti-racism movement.
“I can’t breathe”.
The words of a man whose only crime was being black.
In the space of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the world observed as it lost yet another innocent life to the deep-rooted poison of systemic racism. This time round, a man by the name of George Floyd.
Statistically speaking, the murder of George Floyd was unremarkable. He should have gone down as just another victim of police brutality, to be swept under the carpet and only to be reeled out by corporate democrats at election time.
But this time, the world observed and responded differently. Weeks of protests have erupted, extending across the United States and further afield. Some peaceful, some not. Why is it then, that this death in particular, appears to have catalysed such an incredibly powerful movement?
First, we cannot ignore that this example of police brutality has happened at an incredibly irregular time. The coronavirus has not only created new tensions but exacerbated existing ones. Black Americans have been dying three times the rate of their white counterparts.Covid-19 has exposed the extreme levels of inequality endured by generations of black communities, with socio-economic and health disparities dominating the headlines for weeks on end.
As the United States surpasses 112,00 deaths, we begin to see the impact each individual death has had on families and friends. The psychological impact of months in lockdown has meant that protestors have little time for casual debate. And rightly so, as there should be no casual discussion when it comes to racism.
The global pandemic has also been crucial in exposing something else. It has been apparent not only in the United States, but also closer to home. The cost of bad governance. The incalculable number of mistakes made by the Trump administration has resulted in an overwhelming sense of gross negligence. A negligence that has disproportionately impacted BAME communities. These protests are driven by a determination to eradicate police brutality but represent something much larger. They are a protest against the rise in an ideology that has enabled such events to go unchallenged throughout history: right wing nationalism.
In 2020, we can no longer expect conciliatory leadership. In fact, the current occupier of the White House has not just added flame to the fire but poured the oil himself. Little forgiveness can be expected when a political figure has built his support on a platform of division; from acknowledging “very good people on both sides” in Charlottesville, to telling police to “rough people up more”. Protestors see much more than an issue with the police force, they see an issue with the system.
An interesting comparison to make is the death of Eric Garner in July 2014, who was put into a chokehold by a New York City Police Department officer. Once again, the horrific phrase “I can’t breathe” was used by an innocent man before his brutal killing. Protests were held, a social media storm followed, but nowhere near to the scale that we are seeing today. Of course, the pandemic has meant that we are in unprecedented times. Nonetheless, analysts have pointed to the measured response of a black American president, Barack Obama, as a key reason for de-escalation.
There is perhaps another factor as to why these protests are different to the ones before. Whenever you next turn on your TV, I encourage you to zoom in on those protesting. You will find that the people holding the placards look different. Not because of their race, but because of their age. Young people are taking the lead. Specifically, Generation Z are making it clear to the world that change is on its way. This spirit was felt in Nashville last week, where the Black Lives Matter protest was organized by six teenage girls.
Never before have a generation been able to mobilise at such speed and scale. In part, this is due to social media. It enabled the video of George Floyd’s killing to be circulated across the internet, attaching a face to systemic racism in America. It also has the potential to provide a solution, with a new generation of activists using it to connect, learn and protest. If you are looking for light at this dark time, look no further than the determination of young people to cast away racism.
Something else feels different about the response to this murder. It has started wider discussions that have made the issue of racism relevant to all of us. Young people have done this by once again acting more responsible than adults and refusing to shy away from talking about white privilege. There appears to be a rising attitude that society needs to do more to tackle the multitude of barriers black people face every single day. It starts with assessing our own privilege.
George Floyd’s death has shown us that Martin Luther King Jr’s dream has not yet been realised. It presents us with an opportunity to acknowledge that systemic racism still exists and on a much larger scale than we have previously cared to admit. It is time to act on it.