Silent for too long, globe pushed to tipping point
Thousands of people have marched in solidarity with African-Americans against the killing of George Floyd.
They have chanted "enough is enough" in terms of police brutality in their countries. This suggests we have reached a tipping point. By rising up ordinary people could force a change in legislation and institutionalised racism in their corners of the globe.
Indigenous Australians are demanding the reopening of inquests into deaths in police custody, of which there have been hundreds. They are demanding justice for David Dungay, who said “I can’t breathe” 12 times before he died while being restrained by prison guards in 2015.
Palestinians are calling for justice in the death of Iyad Halak by Israeli soldiers eight days ago. Halak had been scared of the Israeli soldiers' noise and ran to hide behind rubbish bins. His caregiver had shouted to police not to shoot as he was unarmed, disabled and autistic, but the soldiers shot him three times, killing him. Their report said they “neutralised” him. The defence minister apologised for the killing, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said nothing about it at a cabinet meeting the next day.
B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, said justice in the case was unlikely. While its researchers have only partial data for police complaints, they found that investigations into the army's killings of more than 200 Palestinians during the past nine years resulted in only three soldiers being convicted.
B’Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz said of Halak’s killing: “Enforcing the occupation and denying millions of people their human rights requires a great deal of perpetual state violence. Therefore, existing Israeli law enforcement mechanisms are designed to protect the perpetrators of this violence - not the victims.”
South Africans protested outside Parliament on Wednesday, calling for justice not only for George Floyd, but also for Collins Khosa who was killed on Good Friday by South African soldiers who had beaten him with a rifle after police suspected he had alcohol in a cup in his garden, in violation of lockdown rules. The pathologist’s finding was that his death was caused by "blunt-force injuries".
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said this week: “The most recent Independent Police Investigative Directorate report indicated 201 deaths in police custody, 436 deaths as a result of police action, 217 reports of torture and 3 661 reports of assault by the police. The victims are almost always black people.
“Protests in response to the deaths of black people at the hands of police or military - George Floyd in the US, Collins Khosa in South Africa, Adama Traore in France - speak to a growing rage across the globe at continued white supremacy and the use of state violence to support it. As the case of South Africa demonstrates, such violence is to be found even in countries where Black people hold the levers of government and of the state more broadly.”
Hundreds have protested in Rio de Janeiro in front of the state government building, against police brutality in the Favelas - poor areas where many Afro-Brazilians live. Police in Brazil shoot without restraint, protected by their bosses and politicians. There have been a record number of killings by police in Rio last year - 1814.
Brazil’s political leadership has vowed to “dig graves” to stop crime. According to autopsy reports and in at least half the police killings the New York Times has analysed, the deceased were shot in the back at least once. A quarter of the police killings involved an officer who had previously been charged with murder.
Governor Wilson Witzel has commanded snipers to shoot suspects from helicopters, and President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed to protect officers who kill on duty, saying criminals should “die in the streets like cockroaches”.
In Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver there have been protests in solidarity with Floyd's family, and against police brutality and killings in Canada. D’Andre Campbell, an African man, was shot dead outside Toronto by a police officer on April 7. Campbell, who had mental health issues, had called the police for help. Police entered Campbell’s home, and his family say two police each used a Taser on him, and then one officer shot him while he was on the ground. Campbell is one of a long list of people shot dead by Canadian police.
According to an incomplete list, there were 170 people killed in police shootings since 1994. There are no concrete statistics on fatal shootings by law enforcement officers, though the range has been estimated to be between 15 and 25 a year. Statistics Canada tracks fatal police shootings only if an officer is charged.
Legislators in Chile have compared police racism in the US with that in Chile. Protesters in Lebanon have produced a guidebook, From Beirut to Minneapolis: A protest guide in solidarity, on the way to track state abuses.
In Ireland, thousands of protesters have chanted “the world is watching” outside the US embassy. In New Zealand 4000 protesters gathered in Auckland in solidarity with the Floyd family, and other protests took place in Wellington and Christchurch.
In Paris, 15000 people protested against police brutality in the US and France in defiance of police orders.
Some of the largest demonstrations outside the US have been in Britain, where thousands marched to Hyde Park and filled Trafalgar Square. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised for his failure to condemn Floyd’s killing, but on Wednesday called Floyd’s death “appalling and inexcusable”. Johnson said: “My message to President Trump, to everybody in the United States from the UK, is that racism, racist violence, has no place in our society.”
Protests have erupted in many other cities across the world including 10000 people who gathered in Amsterdam, and other protests in the Hague, Berlin, Tehran, Sydney, Copenhagen, and Milan. As the EU’s Foreign Policy chief Joseph Borrell said from Brussels: “This is an abuse of power and it has to be denounced everywhere.”
UN Human Rights official Michelle Bachelett has said: “Inequalities have for too long been ignored, especially in health, education and employment.”
What lies at the heart of police brutality is deep-seated racism that emboldens people, officers and soldiers, to think they can treat others as if they were less than human. The lack of respect for human life, for people’s basic rights, and the internalisation that we are all equal, is what allows the violence and evil to proliferate.
It is time for all of us to stand up and say “enough!” and that "things can no longer go back to normal".
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.