Editorial: No black and white answers to US race row
Like some volcanoes, it is not always possible to predict when people erupt in raw red hot anger. The killing of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white policeman – which was captured in cold and heartless detail on video – has set the nation aflame.
The policeman who had continued to press his knee on Floyd’s neck till he died of asphyxiation now faces an upgraded charge of second-degree murder. Three other officers, who had not been charged earlier, also face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
This has done little to douse the protests that have broken out in almost every part of the US – a phenomenon so widespread that it points to one thing. The Floyd killing was not the sole provocation, but the catalyst for unearthing the deep-seated disquiet and anxiety over how covert racial prejudices govern the reactions of the police as well as other authorities when it comes to dealing with the black community.
The US President Donald Trump has done anything but help calm tempers by his aggressive tweets and responses. He has threatened to send in the army, labelled the response by governors of states as “weak”, and described the organisers of the protests as merchants or terror. His remarks may have only served to fan the flames, but there is no doubt that they have done little in terms of helping to quieten the anger or maintain the peace. A situation like this called for a more statesmanly response rather than something that failed to even acknowledge the mood and anxiety among those who are protesting.
That the riots have transpired in these polarised times and in the shadow of a looming presidential election has divided the country even further. It appears as if President Trump believes that playing the law and order card strongly will help further his chances in the electoral sweepstakes. His photo op before a burnt down church in Washington DC, Bible in hand, was calculated and infused with political symbolism. While his challenger Democrat Joe Biden has called for peace and focussed on the larger reason behind the protests, some believe he has also responded politically, expending only what one reputed newspaper called “half a breath” on condemning the violence that some protestors resorted to.
The protests have morphed into violent riots in many cities. At least five policemen have been shot, one critically in the head. A historic church has been set on fire, buildings broken, vehicles burnt, and shops looted by mobs. What is needed most of all at this juncture is to find a way of securing the peace. The police’s record has been patchy and there are continued instances of the use of disproportionate force in some cities. America would do well to remember that these painful moments are a reminder of the importance of securing greater racial justice and ushering in a more egalitarian society. If they are used to only polarise the country further at the altar of personal political ambitions, the country would have lost a precious opportunity in the middle of this raging anger – a chance to mend its ways and unite the people.