License to Kill: Police Brutality Edition
Trayvon Martin. Oscar Grant. Terence Crutcher. Freddie Gray. Samuel DuBose. William Chapman. Tamir Rice. Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Eric Garner.
This isn’t the first time a black individual has suffered at the hands of barbaric police brutality, which is the unjustified, immoderate, and often illegal abuse of power by the police to impose force against civilians. On the evening of Monday the 25th of May in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a 46-year-old unarmed African-American man, George Floyd, was arrested and killed by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer who had been subjected to 18 conduct complaints prior to this event without any materializing or amounting to disciplinary action. Floyd was first handcuffed and then pinned down to the ground by the officer (using his knee, to that) for being suspected of an attempt to distribute counterfeit money, a $20 bill, at a corner store: a non-violent offense. The event was recorded on a cellphone by a bystander, the now-viral video depicting the heartbreaking incident in which Floyd’s neck was held down by the weight of a grown man for almost 5 minutes as he let out audible pleas for air, grunting in pain and gasping for air as his windpipe was constricted, saying “Please, I can’t breathe. Mama. Mama. The knee on my neck. I can’t breathe, officer. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. Just water or something, please. Please, I can’t breathe. They gonna kill me.”
Passersby spoke up to his defense, their voices growing louder as they tried to tell the officer to let him breathe, pointed out that his nose was bleeding, asked the officers to let him off the ground, questioned how long Floyd had to be held down and said he wasn’t resisting arrest and that the officer could have easily put him into the car by then - non violently. When Floyd’s body stopped moving, enraged passersby pleaded for the officer to get off his neck and check for a pulse - which was met with ignorance and defiance as he pressed down harder, almost as though he had a point to prove: perhaps that he held more power than them and thus he could use that power as he likes, even if it may be unwarranted and excessive. Being a police officer and killing people without justification doesn't come in a two for one package: but who can the civilians run to for help when they need it to protect themselves from those who are sworn in to protect them?
The police didn’t act out of self-defense: Floyd was unarmed and the video clearly shows Floyd didn’t resist. In fact, he was even taunted by one of the three other police officers standing by: “Get up and get in the car.” And all Floyd could say was that he couldn’t move; eventually, he did stop moving. He stopped begging for help and became unconscious. By the time the officer finally lifted his knee from Floyd’s neck, his body was limp.
He was then taken to a hospital and pronounced dead a few hours later.
Floyd didn’t resist, didn’t verbally abuse the police, and did not intend to cause a scene - yet ended up becoming the headline story for the entire world, and the Black Lives Matter Campaign. However, was this reason enough for him to be killed, nay slaughtered? What could possibly justify his death? The fact that he was African-American? Certainly, his offense - the use of counterfeit money - could not warrant such a death. The mere color of his skin is not just enough for the violent and utterly animalistic atrocity against him. A skin color speaks nothing of one’s character; yet the only thing in common between all of these police brutality cases: Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Terence Crutcher, Freddie Gray, Samuel DuBose, William Chapman, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and George Floyd, is their racial classification.
The next day, Tuesday the 26th of May, the four police officers, Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J Alexander Kuen, involved in the incident were fired.
"Being black in America should not be a death sentence," the Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey stated. "For five minutes we watched as a white police officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help."
The same night, Floyd’s family members voiced that the officers should be charged with murder. If the consequence of merely passing a counterfeit bill is death, what is the consequence of murder?
The past couple of days have seen a number of people from different backgrounds and cultures gathered on the streets of Minneapolis to protest the unjust killing of George Floyd. The protests were peaceful when they first commenced, with people making speeches and carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter”, “Who Do You Call When The Police Murders?”, “Justice For George Floyd”, “A Badge Is Not A Licence To Kill”, and more messages to confront the officer’s wrongful actions. "Say his name. George Floyd," protesters echoed. "I can't breathe."
The anger soon intensified and the protests turned violent, erupting into riots as demonstrators gained access to a precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department, which was evacuated to ensure the safety of the police, set the building on fire and burned it down. Protestors proceeded to loot businesses and stores like Target, breaking into these buildings by throwing items at the glass windows as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. The police eventually had to pull out of the situation. Videos shared on social media illustrate smashed windows, destroyed furniture, and scattered debris as looters carry out everything from appliances to toilet paper. The chants echoed "No justice, no peace." At least 5 buildings were set ablaze, the night’s air brimmed with smoke, and one man who is assumed to be a looter shot by a business owner was found dead.
Following these events, the US National Guard had been called in and a state of emergency for the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul was declared by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
Less violent protests took place across the US from places like California to New York City and dozens of people were reportedly arrested. Philomene Floyd, George’s brother, spoke up about the protests and revolts, commenting "These officers, they need to be arrested right now, the people want justice right now. They need to be convicted and get the death penalty."
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, tweeted: “...These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. I just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Although many do agree with him on the premise of how looting stores and setting buildings on fire doesn’t help the situation, the threat of violence wasn’t received welcomingly. Reacting to violence with violence does not solve the issue: this might have been what Trump was trying to get across; yet, he attempts to solve the violence resulting from the riots with a threat of violence. In fact, Twitter put his tweet behind a warning notice as it violated Twitter’s terms on “glorifying violence”. However, the tweet remains accessible due to public interest concerns.
The Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, responded to this tweet stating that "calling people thugs and calling on people to get shot" is rooted in the same kind of attitude that led to George Floyd being killed. "The tough guy, macho man, 'I'm going to make you do what I want you to do' attitude is the heart of the problem," he said, adding that "Violence begets violence." He also stated that Trump’s “angry words” were “feeding an ugly cycle.” “When the Looting Starts, the Shooting Starts” is, in fact, a racial slur from the 1800s, that was used by whites against blacks in the era of slavery - to discourage them from visiting places earmarked for white citizens.
Those supporting the protestors, even in their revolts, believe that the reaction is justified. Kaepernick, a footballer, and activist tweeted: "When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your violence has brought this resistance." Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who has called for charges to be pressed against Derek Chauvin, said on the 29th of May that the city's anger is "not only understandable, it's right". Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a human rights leader, tweeted one of his father’s quotes: “riot is the language of the unheard” and later again tweeted: “Justice will prevail. We will not give up.” The protests have taken a heavy toll, both online and in the streets of America, while the four policemen are awaiting trial.
Legally defined as a civil rights violation where police forces use undue or excessive amounts of force against a civilian, police brutality is the new addition to our trending pages. It has fixated its roots in most societies, due to a sense of superiority and power over others. First coined in 1872, and the earliest attacks recorded in 1877: labor strikes were carried out and police forces would target those who hindered industrial activity by attacking them with police dogs, water hoses, or by arresting them without proper charges. When put to trial, it was rare that these officers would be convicted of any criminal charges pertaining to police brutality and, in most cases, were simply set free and allowed to keep their jobs. This has inevitably led to the undeterred rise in police misconduct globally.
The media’s depiction of police brutality cases over the years has been unsatisfactory due to improper investigation and half-baked statistics. More often than not, the absence of facts and a comprehensive analysis shapes public opinion clumsily, like a distorted lens that produces before us a false image. Civilians need more than just a 15-minute panel discussion to understand the complexities that come along with police brutality which has multiple racial, economic, and political facets. Whether it be the African Americans or those who identify as LGBTQ+, historical evidence has always pointed towards a strong correlation between the social status of an individual and the probability of them being harassed by police officers.
For example, in the US, research shows that those African Americans with more Afrocentric features are more likely to be provided with harsh sentences and assumed to be perpetrators of crime, hence “justifying” the brutal amount of force used against them. On the other hand, more than one-fifth (22%) of transgender people who had interacted with police reported police harassment and 6% of transgender individuals reported that they experienced bias-motivated assault by officers. The scenario only gets worse when we shift our gaze to the political arena as certain governments today display high levels of intolerance against the “power to question” that we as citizens have over our decision-makers: casually utilizing tear gas, rubber bullets, and false arrests as their easy means to contain and control dissent.
There are numerous highly conflicting views on whether the riots are justified and whether they will bring justice or cause further harm. Those speaking for the riots would claim that actions speak louder than words but those against the riots would claim that the pen is mightier than the sword. Either way, people are hurt and feel unsafe in their own society and this has been provoked by the recent upsurge of police brutality. On the afternoon of Friday the 29th of May, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, announced that Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder, which does not require an intent to kill but causes death whilst disregarding human life, and second-degree manslaughter, which denotes that he consciously took a chance that would harm or kill Floyd. Many are not satisfied with the charges and believe they are insufficient.
A striking comparison can be made between the protests that took place in India, in 2011, and the protests in the US right now. While it may be a far fetched comparison, police brutality against black persons was prevalent even before this incident, the immense amount of media attention, the viral video, and the brutality of the attack emancipates the issue and brings it to the forefront of discussion, much like the Nirbhaya case in India did - bringing issues of rape to light. George Floyd can, therefore, be compared to the American Nirbhaya - one who brought these issues to light.
Police brutality can often stem from racism, lead to death, resulting in revolts and cities being burned down: it simply goes against any sort of human morality and provokes anarchy, hopelessness, and animal rule. And when something wrong has been done and suitable action hadn't been taken against the person who did, one cannot expect the crowds to remain silent and simply accept the fact that George Floyd was killed without any sort of reasonable justification. A person’s skin color, a mere physical trait, does not make one inferior and never can and never will be a crime or a reason for them to suffer.
Whether we suffer from its consequences directly or not, this is what is wrong with the world and we must do right by an innocent man by standing up for a community that has always been treated differently for something that isn’t wrong with them and isn’t even under their control. Imagine having to look over your shoulder and worry that the mere color of your skin will result in your harm. No one should ever have to feel that way. Racism is a sin: how do you live comfortably with yourself and your morals if you believe you can be this cruel and heartless towards someone?
We must recognize that black communities suffer unjustifiably. And we must speak up for justice to be served.
By: Tvisha Arora, Sania Menon, Soorya Balasubramanian