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George Floyd (46)

George Floyd (46)

It was difficult for me to watch the video clip that showed a ruthless Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd and asphyxiating him to death. With his chest on the ground and two hands locked behind him, the African-American had been telling him that he was unable to breathe. Few could have even spoken under such circumstances! 

Floyd’s plea for life had no effect on the police officer who lifted his knee only after he was certain that his “acquaintance” was no more. His colleagues in uniform, Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Ton Thao preferred not to intervene and in doing so aided and abetted in his killing. 

The video showed some pedestrians, including women, warning Chauvin that life was ebbing away from Floyd. The brute policemen were supremely nonchalant even when they knew that the eye-witnesses were also recording the cold-blooded killing on their mobile phones.

It is impossible to believe that Chauvin was just doing his police duty when he knelt on Floyd’s neck. Floyd might have resisted while Thomas Lane and JA Kueng tried to ferret him out of his car but once he was handcuffed from behind, he was very compliant. 

True, Floyd did not initially agree to enter the police vehicle. The four burly policemen could have easily pushed him into the car and taken him to the police station.

The point to be noted is that kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, out of which over two minutes were after Floyd stopped responding to Chauvin’s cruelty, was totally unwarranted. Was the police officer settling a score? It is difficult to believe that Chauvin and Floyd did not know each other.

An obituary published in the Economist, London, says that the six-feet-six-inch Floyd worked at a Mexican music joint as a bouncer. He was known for his amiable manner, which was in sharp contrast to the man whom he replaced. 

That person was an “off-duty police officer with jittery eyes, who would reach for his pepper spray as soon as a fight broke out and fire it over everyone”. He was the man who eventually killed Floyd.

Floyd had extraordinarily sharp features few would miss to notice. They were his height, bulging muscles, wide mouth and thick lips. The image is now etched in the memory of tens of millions of people the world over. 

Surely, Chauvin would have recognised him, particularly when his colleagues had gathered his personal details on a notebook, and utilised the opportunity to finish him. Did they have any issue between them? Did their paths ever cross? Only a thorough investigation would reveal the whole truth.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. It was Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison who upgraded the charge from third-degree murder. 

Second-degree murder charge is usually applied in crimes of passion, which is distinct from premeditated murder. His refusal to heed to the dying pleas of a man under his knee clearly suggests that he was actually killing him, not controlling him.

The charge against Floyd was laughable. He bought a packet of cigarettes by tendering a “counterfeit” $20 bill. He did not bother to return the cigarette packet, when the authenticity of the currency note was challenged, and left the shop forcing the shopkeeper to call the police. 

Floyd was not a Saint but he was not a Satan, either. He had his terms in jail and involvement in a burglary. That raises the question why there are a larger number of African-Americans in jails than their population warrants?

Floyd had a way with women and he was a good father, as long as the relationship lasted. He underwent a transformation and got involved in a church ministry when he was pictured holding aloft his Bible that went viral on the social media. 

At least he knew how to hold the Bible correctly, unlike President Donald Trump who exposed himself when he held “a Bible” in front of a church destroyed by the rioters protesting against the killing of Floyd. “Is this your Bible”, asked a journalist. Trump promptly replied, “It is a Bible”!

Floyd was one of the tens of thousands of Americans who lost their jobs when Coronavirus gripped the nation pitchforking it to the position of the world’s worst-Covid-affected nation, a distinction held initially by China and, later, by Italy. 

Needless to say, it is almost impossible to fathom a human mind. How easily a Christian apologist, who preached against temptation all his life, had fallen into the trap of a Canadian woman with whom he had to settle the matter in private! If that be the case, how could Floyd be blamed if after his Ministry work, he fell into bad company, especially when he had lost his job as bouncer and trucker?

Floyd, like King Lear, was more sinned against than sinning. Violence on account of the high-handedness of the police against African-Americans is not something new. There have been several such incidents, including the state-wide riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

True, violence occurred after the killing of Floyd, forcing the President to take shelter in the bunker near the White House. Earlier, this happened only once when on 9/11 two planes hit the twin-towers in New York and another hit the Pentagon in Washington DC. 

The protest was not confined to the African-American community alone. Every section of the people took part in the protest that spread in no time to nearly 350 towns in the US.

As mentioned, the protest started even when Floyd was gasping for breath under Chovin’s knee. True, Trump was forthright when he condemned the killing but, thereafter, he played a disastrous role forcing the Houston police chief to ask the President to shut up if he could not speak sense. 

Never before in the history of the US had a President received such a rebuke from a police officer whose area of jurisdiction is just a speck on the geographical map of the country.

Come to think of it, there was a time when President John F. Kennedy invited all the American Nobel Prize winners to a dinner at the White House. Welcoming them, Kennedy said that never in the history of the White House had so many geniuses assembled under its roof except when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. The story may be apocryphal but I really wonder whether Trump had ever heard it.

As usual, commentators tried to explain the riots in terms of the inequalities and racism that exist in the US. Policing America is hard because America is more violent than any other rich country and its citizens more heavily armed. 

When I visited Pearland, near Houston, Texas, last year, the national and state flags were flying at half mast as the town was mourning the killing of the first police officer who wore a Sikh turban at the hands of a criminal. The entire population of Pearland seemed to have attended his funeral where the people raised a large sum of money to be given to his wife and children.

True, the hiatus between the white American and the African-American had for a while been narrowing. That is, perhaps, what prompted Trump to claim that the African-Americans never had it so good as under his administration. What he did not know is that whatever little progress the African-Americans had achieved has been reversed by the pandemic.

Whatever the crisis, be it political or economic or social, it is the poor who are likely to be affected more than the rich. This is a universal truth. What happened in the wake of Coronavirus is not any different. Unemployment has reached high levels and it is the African-Americans who have suffered the most.

One good thing that happened in the US this time was that every section of society took part in the protest movement. However, the most defining moment was the Minneapolis police seeking apology for what four of their men did or did not do.

When the police chief spoke to the family of George Floyd, he took off his cap as a mark of respect. He said he would have done anything if it could have brought him back to life.

The summary sacking of the four acted as a balm on those who had been clamouring for justice. A speedy punishment of the guilty will help in bringing normalcy to the country. Within hours of Chovin pressing Floyd to death, his wife of nearly 10 years, gave him notice of divorce. She no longer wants to be known as his wife. A Laotian, she had once contested for the title of Mrs Minneapolis.

A section of the Americans of Indian origin took part in the protest movement. This does not happen often, as the Indians generally feel comfortable identifying themselves with the white.

When Gandhi was in South Africa, he never protested against the policy of apartheid in force in that country. He did not consider himself a black. In fact, he wanted to be treated as a white because he believed that he came from a culturally and economically rich background.

Gandhi argued that Indians like him should also be allowed to use the roads, seats in buses and trains reserved for the white. His autobiography has enough evidence to suggest that he considered himself to be on a par with the white, not the black.

Be that as it may, what happened in America has lessons for India. When Martin Luther King Jr and his wife travelled all over India, they were astonished to find that the living conditions of the lower castes or the “Untouchables” were not very different from that of the Blacks back home.

Things have not changed much in India since the Kings’ visit. Police atrocities are a fact of life in India. There is a video of policemen ill-treating the victims of the recent riots in Delhi’s northeast area. Has anyone apologised to anyone? Forget apology, did any of the ministers go there to prevent the rioters from selectively targeting the minorities?

Atrocities on Dalits and minorities are reported, sometimes with graphic details, but that makes no difference to those in power. Millions of poor people in India suffered on account of the thoughtless action of a leader, who did not give even a day’s notice before the lockdown was imposed on the nation.

How did the lockdown benefit the nation? On March 24, when everyone was ordered to remain wherever he or she was, there were only 500 Corona-positive cases. Today when the lockdown is virtually over, there are over 2.5 lakh cases of Coronavirus.

Will anyone apologise for the foolish advice the leadership gave to the people to switch off all the electric lights and switch on diyas and candles for nine minutes beginning nine o’clock on April 5. 

What’s more, a top BJP leader who is in charge of West Bengal even claimed that Corona spread because many people did not follow Modi’s nine-minute dictum. America is not a model state but the world’s largest “democracy” has to learn something from the ordinary Americans who stood up for a fallen African-American.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 8th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 24)