On 25th May 2020, Minneapolis Police arrested a 46-year-old Black American named George Floyd for buying cigarettes with counterfeit 20 dollars. There were four policemen involved. One police officer named Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the ground and kept his knee on Floyds neck for full 8 minutes and 46 seconds even when Floyd was lying unconscious. In the videos George Floyd is repeatedly heard saying that he can’t breathe. His last words which can be heard in videos are I can’t breathe, Man. Please. Mama. Mama. I can’t breathe. Still the policeman did not remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughter. All four policemen involved have been fired by the Minneapolis police department. The medical report has classified Floyd’s death as homicide. It was through the CCTV cameras and videos made by bystanders that the world came to know about this heinous crime. The videos sparked a wave of protests across United States, some of them even turning violent with arson and looting.
Today America is burning. America is wounded and in pain. America is in turmoil and mourning. The person at the helm of affairs is further dividing the great country instead of providing the healing touch. He has been calling governors to do more and to dominate the protestors and telling some of the Governor that if they fail to dominate the protestors they will “look like a bunch of jerks”. So much so that the Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo while talking to Christian Amanpour offered some strong advice. He said ‘ Let me just say this to the President of the United States on the behalf of the police chiefs in this country: Please, if you don’t have something constructive to say, Keep your mouth shut, because you’re putting men and women in their early twenties at risk”.
Personally, I connect to this incident at a quite deeper level. One of the abiding and life shaping memories of my childhood is perhaps the only time I was beaten by my father. This is about 1978 or 79 when I was in either Kindergarten 1 or Kindergarten 2. There was a group of foreign students who lived in rented apartments near our house in Aligarh. Today Aligarh is a city of almost million residents. Back then it was a small University Town known for the world-renowned Aligarh Muslim University. Besides, students from all over India, it drew students from around the globe. There were a lot of foreign students in the University. However, the sizable majority of foreign students comprised mostly from various African countries, Thailand, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Palestine. I was playing with other kids from the neighborhood outside the house when one of the African students passed by on his bicycle. Some kids in my groups started calling him black man. I also joined in without even knowing what it meant. Thankfully, my father was sitting in the drawing room with outside door open and listened to us shouting those ugly words. By the time he came out to stop us, that student was gone. My father came straight to me and next thing I remember is a slap. Not only me, all the kids got a slap each. Next, we were all assembled by my father in the drawing room of our house. We were told and explained that all human beings are equal and that the colour of the skin and religion or facial features are not an excuse to discriminate, exclude or humiliate anybody. Because my father did not know where that fellow lived, he waited for next day and when that student passed by again, he was requested to stop. My father took me to him, and I was asked to say sorry for my previous day behaviour. My father also apologized on our behalf to that student. He was a nice fellow. He not only accepted our apology but put his hand on my head and said its ok. After that he became friends with all the kids, and we used to say hello aloud whenever he passed by. That was an extremely valuable lesson for me. Since then I have never discriminated against anybody because of colour of skin. We have to teach our kids from very early age otherwise they may learn and imbibe to hate somebody or discriminate against somebody from their environment. Today in the list of my heroes are a lot of black icons ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela to Mohammad Ali to Rosa Parks to Maya Angelou. They keep on inspiring people and are role models for people from around the world.
Let’s pray and work for a day when nobody has to beg for life, when nobody has to beg to breath, when nobody has to beg to be heard, when nobody has to beg to be treated equally, when nobody has to beg for dignity just because of his or her colour of skin or gender or religion. Am I hoping for too much? I hope not.
For references and more details, see:
- Marwan Bishara (1 June 2020) The mendacity of greatness in Trump’s America .Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/mendacity-greatness-trump-america-200531165351370.html. Accessed on 2 June 2020
- Evan Hill, Ainara Tiefenthäler, Christiaan Triebert, Drew Jordan, Haley Willis and Robin Stein (31 May 2020) 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody.Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html. Accessed on 2 June 2020.
- Sam Levin and Joanna Walters (2 June 2020) George Floyd: medical examiner says death was a homicide. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/01/george-floyd-death-homicide-police-brutality. Accessed on 2 June 2020.
- Chantal Da Silva (2 June 2020) Houston Police Chief Tells Donald Trump: ‘If You Don’t Have Something Constructive to Say, Keep Your Mouth Shut’. Available at: https://www.newsweek.com/houston-police-chief-tells-donald-trump-if-you-dont-have-something-constructive-say-keep-your-1508036. Accessed on 2 June 2020.
- Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath & Hamza Mohamed (2 June 2020) EU ‘shocked and appalled’ by George Floyd’s killing: Live updates. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/george-floyd-america-pain-weekend-rallies-grip-live-200601132229392.html. Accessed on 2 June 2020.