Black Lives Matter Part 2: Donald Trump is sounding more like BJ Vorster every day
It doesn’t matter how many inquiries are launched into the killing of African-Americans by police in the US, the result will be the same - one black man after another will continue to die as a result of police brutality. The reason? Because the system and institutions ensure that there will be impunity for those police officers who commit crimes, and the different branches of government will cover up for the guilty, just as happened under apartheid.
The murder by Derek Chauvin and two other officers of George Floyd was a replay of what happened to Eric Garner six years ago. As New York police officers sat on Garner’s head, his final words were “I can’t breathe.” And what happened to those police officers? Five years after the incident, federal prosecutors said that the officer who caused the death of Garner would not face criminal charges.
When Michael Brown was shot dead by police in 2014, sparking off protests and riots in the Northeast of the US, one year later prosecutors dropped all charges against the six police officers accused in his arrest and death. This is what happens over and over again. Since January 2015, 1252 African Americans have died in police shootings in the US, and that does not include those who died in police custody or by other methods. Very few police officers have been prosecuted and sentenced for those crimes.
South Africans are aware of the lengths the South African police, in collaboration with judges and prosecutors went to cover up the deaths in detention of black South Africans. The system worked for them as all branches of government worked in synchronicity to ensure that the police got away with their brutality and murder.
The fact that Derek Chauvin, the policeman who killed George Floyd, was involved in shootings and deaths and had 18 complaints against him, but was given the medal of valour in 2008 and again in 2010, reminds us of what happened under apartheid. Joao Rodrigues was given a commendation by the National Commissioner of Police in 1971 for the false evidence he gave at the inquest into Ahmed Timol’s death in detention. Many other police officers were given commendations for towing the line in the cover-ups concerning police brutality.
In the re-opened Timol inquest in 2017, we heard from a forensic pathologist who testified that Timol had been brutally assaulted by police which was the cause of his death. But this was not the findings of the 1972 autopsy by forensic pathologists whose job it was to cover up for the police.
Similarly, the initial autopsy into the killing of Floyd said the county medical examiner’s review “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” But an independent autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family released on Monday said that Floyd died as a result of mechanical asphyxiation. The autopsy concluded that his death was a homicide, brought about by compression of his neck and back by police officers. There is no question that the justice system in the US is set up to protect the police at all costs at the expense of black lives.
This is what will need to change, but unfortunately there is not the requisite political will, not under the current Presidency anyway. Trump and his National Security Adviser see no systemic racism in the system, and instead aportion all the blame on the protesters against police violence, who he has now conveniently labelled ‘terrorists,’ and vows to deploy the military against him. Trump is sounding more like Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha every day.
Trump’s instruction to state governors to “dominate” and not look like jerks, and deal with the protesters, shows a complete lack of understanding of the crisis in the country, and he will continue to fan the flames of violence as he calls on law enforcement to use strong arm tactics. As Martin Luther King said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” Sadly those at the pinnacle of power refuse to listen, and so the conspiracy of silence and cycle of impunity will continue, for now anyway.
* This is part 2 of a 3-part series.