For the best part of two weeks, many American cities have been engulfed in street protests.
The catalyst was the killing of another black man named George Floyd, by another white police officer. After his arrest, Floyd was handcuffed behind his back and therefore couldn’t possibly pose any threat to the four gun-toting policemen surrounding him. Notwithstanding, three of them “restrained” him while the fourth police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for over eight minutes even after he was dead.
Floyd was heard on camera repeatedly complaining “I can’t breathe”! If not that the incident was caught on film by onlookers, it would simply have been another routine killing of an innocent black man by US police. Racial discrimination has been part and parcel of American “culture”, ever since European “settlers” arrived, committed genocide against the native American owners of the land and claimed it for themselves, then brought in slaves to develop the land virtually free of charge.
As a result, racial discrimination in which blacks are treated less favourably because of their race, skin colour, descent, nationality or immigrant status, has long been institutionalised. Indeed, it was only after the US civil war and subsequent emancipation of slaves that treating black people as property was outlawed. Before then, black people had to have an “owner” and could be traded for horses or other property. Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again) political base never really tries to hide their contempt for black people, thrives on racial animosity and longs for the return of those “good old days”.
As a result, Black Americans have restricted access to quality healthcare and education; are far more likely to be arrested; and are far more likely to receive stiff prison sentences. Trump’s long history of racism is an open secret. In 1973, the Nixon administration sued him for refusing to rent properties to black people. In 1983, he refused to allow black engineers to work for him. In 1989, he took out a full-page advertisement, calling for the death penalty against a group of black men (the Central Park five) who were later found innocent of any crime. In 1992, Trump’s casinos were fined $200,000 for discriminating against black workers.
In 2010, Trump argued in support of segregation of Muslims in Lower Manhattan. In 2011, he never apologised after falsely claiming that President Obama was a Kenyan because of his skin colour. In 2015 he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who bring “crime and drugs” to the US. He has also adopted Nixon’s law and order (without justice) rhetoric based on racial fearmongering; said people from Haiti have aids; said people from Nigeria would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America; called African countries “shitholes”; told Black American Congresswomen to “go back to where they came from”, and called white-nationalist racist protestors “very good people”.
The nationwide street protests against Trump and racists within the police force are being carried out under the aegis of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, an international human rights movement which campaigns against systemic racialism including racial profiling, racial inequality, police brutality and inequalities within the justice system. Although the movement precedes Trump’s presidency, the crisis and nationwide street demonstrations are the result of Trump personifying and defending systemic racism.
Prior to his emergence as US President, overt anti-black bigotry was a taboo in American politics, but in constantly pandering to his “white nationalist” base, Trump changed all that and it’s not surprising that demonstrations against racism have erupted under his administration. Cell phone technology and the social media have enabled millions worldwide to view an increasing number of videos showing quite clearly that American police habitually terrorise, brutalise and kill innocent blacks. Trump himself had no direct part in the killing of George Floyd, but in response to his unwillingness to condemn racist police, irate crowds descended on the White House which for the first time in history had to be surrounded by twenty-foot high fencing to keep protestors out!
There is no denying that Trump supports white nationalist groups; he is reluctant to criticise the racist police, and has urged violence on several occasions. Jim Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress and also the third ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives calls him racist. Fortunately, for a beleaguered America, it’s not all about Trump. So many non-blacks are joining the protests to disassociate themselves from Trump and his base. The global awareness of endemic racial discrimination in the US has brought support for the protests from European nations, Australia and other developed nations.
Questions have been asked as to why African leaders say nothing when thousands of people worldwide are protesting against racism, and how come Africans support protests and struggles in foreign lands but not in Africa where the issues at stake are far worse? With respect to the first question, foreign governments or Heads of State haven’t condemned the US, because it’s not diplomatic. When asked to comment, Canadian Prime Minister, Trudeau, pointedly kept silent.
Only Trump in his unrefined un-presidential manner openly criticises other Heads of State. Worldwide support for the protests has come from civil society groups, religious leaders and political parties rather than governments. As for the second question, the truth is that African leaders have forfeited the moral right to complain about the way blacks are treated outside the continent. In Nigeria, for example, there are far more extra-judicial murders by security agents than in the US and government has felt no compunction in gunning down innocent citizens during peaceful protests.
The essential difference between American and African Blacks is that the former live in developed nations where, on the whole, human rights are taken seriously. Therefore, comparing the plight of blacks in America to those in Africa where there is little regard for human rights is fallacious. Their antecedents, experiences and circumstances are different. While innocent law-abiding Africans are killed on a daily basis without much fuss, black lives seem only to matter when taken by white people in developed nations.