U.S.A. — Police are agents of suppression- so long as institutional racism exists – By Mohamed Hamaludin

U.S.A. — Police are agents of suppression and some will kill…

It was a simple question for the jury: What would happen to any one of them if he or she has an encounter with the police, is handcuffed and forced face down onto a street and a knee is pressed on the neck area for nine minutes and 29 seconds?

The answer: He or she will die.

And who is responsible for the death?

The answer: The one with the knee on the neck.           

That is what happened to George Floyd on May 25 when Minneapolis officers arrested the 46-year-old African American man after responding to a complaint that he bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first police car pulled up, officers handcuffed Floyd and had him on his belly on the street. Officer Derek Chauvin squeezed the life out of him – literally — as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” several times and called out for his Mama with his last breath.

It was not hearsay or second-hand information. A courageous 17-year-old,Darnella Frazier, appalled as she saw police killing yet another African American man, videotaped the scene. Daniella testified in court that she stayed awake at nights apologizing to the dead man for not doing enough to save his life. But she did something. Nobody watching the video could avoid being moved at the sight of an officer given a badge and gun to protect people kneeling on the neck of one of them, a hand stuck nonchalantly into his pocket.

And, yet, it took a three-week trial and 10 hours of jury deliberation for Chauvin to be convicted on three counts of manslaughter on Wednesday afternoon.

A charitable way to look at the relatively long time for conviction would be that the jurors needed time to believe what they saw in the video and heard from eyewitnesses. But, most likely, it was because the defense attorneys spent hours trying to distract the jurors’ attention with incredible claims such as Floyd probably died from carbon monoxide poisoning by the exhaust pipe of the vehicle near which he was pinned.

It was a classic case of trying to muddle the case and confuse the jurors, hoping to cast reasonable doubt as to why Floyd died.

The defense strategy did not work but still it was not until the judge read out the guilty verdicts that people finally let out a collective sigh of relief. They had very good reason to hold their breaths.

The history of police officers’ being punished for killing civilians, especially African Americans, is not encouraging. New York officers arrested Eric Garner, 43, for selling loose cigarettes and one of them choked him to death. With his dying breath, Garner pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” several times, all caught on video. That in 2014, seven years before Floyd was killed. The New York Police Department fired the officer blamed for his death, Daniel Pantaleo; a Grand Jury refused to indict him.

Police have killed many other African Americans, mostly by shooting them, since then and before, mostly without being charged, which sparked the formation of Black Lives Matter. Now the hope seems to be that the perfect storm of Floyd’s murder and Chauvin’s conviction will mark a turning point in how the police use deadly force. It is a happy thought but not a realistic one.

Policing began in Boston in 1838 to replace private security protecting businesses. Today, officers number more than a million, 906,037 of them full-time law and 94,275 part-time. The overwhelming number perform their duties with professionalism and it would be unfair to allow the criminality of a very small few to tarnish the reputation of the profession as a whole. But so long as those few continue to kill in the line of duty, so long will the outrage exist.

But hurricane shutters and impact-resistant windows have been installed against the perfect storm of citizen outrage. Police officers protect one another with a code of silence and defend the “thin blue line.” That line was breached in the Floyd case when several officers testified against Chauvin. But there is another form of entrenched protection: the flat refusal of unions to cooperate with efforts to reform the profession.

Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that officers must be given the benefit of the doubt if they kill because of fear for their safety. The high court has also ruled that the police, like other government officials, have “qualified immunity” against being sued for wrongful death. Such attitudes can be expected to continue with a solid “conservative” majority in the court, along with the fact that President Donald Trump and then U.S. Sate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell installed more than 200 federal judges chosen from a milieu that is decidedly pro-police.

But the over-arching concern is that policing began in one form or other as a means for European Americans to keep African Americans in check, starting when armed men were dispatched to capture or kill escaping slaves. It has become a central element of the endemic racism which permeates American institutions. Dealing with police misconduct, as the Democrats in Congress are trying to do with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, will only scratch the surface of injustice.

That is especially so in today’s highly polarized politics in which even an attempted insurrection by mostly European Americans, did not evoke the expected degree of national outrage. Policing falls squarely within that polarization. It is no surprise that all but one of the unions representing officers in the 18,000 state and local agencies endorsed Trump, who went on to instigate the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Until the political impasse created by the unwillingness of European Americans to acknowledge the equal status of African Americans as citizens is resolved, so long will there be police officers who will kill those they see as a threat not only because of their size, as in the case of Floyd and Garner, but more so because of their race.

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who worked for several years at The Guyana Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating in 1984 to the United States, where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a column for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com

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Comments

  • Dennis Albert  On 04/24/2021 at 11:00 pm

    A lot of African-Americans are moving to Guyana these days. They have told me the horror of what goes on in the white countries being Black.

    Even Indo-Guyanese are lumped together with either Black, illegal Mexican, or Muslim. The white racists have more rights than the victims they attack and murder.

  • Dennis Albert  On 04/25/2021 at 3:42 pm

    Stephen Punwasi
    @StephenPunwasi
    Meanwhile in “racially tolerant” Flag of Canada, a 14 year black kid was jumped by a group of kids while they hurled racial slurs.

    … Flag of Canada police said he instigated the fight… with six kids? Face with monocle

    • Dennis Albert  On 04/25/2021 at 3:47 pm

      Canada is protecting future white supremacist school shooters ain’t it?
      https://edmonton.citynews.ca/video/2021/04/23/family-demands-justice-after-14-year-old-edmonton-boy-beaten-in-racist-attack/

      • Bernard  On 04/25/2021 at 8:14 pm

        It is safe to assume that if a white teenager had been gang-beaten by a group of black teenagers, action by Edmonton police would have been immediate and charges laid by now.

        There is a considerable level of ingrained hate and antipathy in Canada today towards blacks. Canada remains a predominantly white country and resentment to people of colour is always simmering below the surface. Systematic racism is not only an American problem, it is a Canadian blight as well.

        Prior to 1968, blacks and other minorities in Canada, were very small in numbers. Racism wasn’t a problem up to that point. A change in immigration policy, with an emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism, was brought in by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and it has correspondingly led to an increase in racism in the country as more and more dark-skinned people settle.

        That immigration policy remains bitterly opposed to this day, particularly in the western regions of the country. Alberta is highly anti immigration and heavily pro- Trump. It therefore comes as no surprise to see police indifference to the beating of that black kid.

        It will take a very long time before the level of racism in Canada goes down, especially in places like Alberta.

        Bernard

      • Dennis Albert  On 04/26/2021 at 12:56 am

        The irony of the racist Canadians is that they want wealthy foreigners to pay millions of dollars for their plywood homes, while they themselves use that capital gains to buy up property in Central and South America.

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