WASHINGTON: America burned coast-to-coast with anger and strife over the killing of black people by militarized police with growing scenes on Saturday of arson and violence close to the centers of power and privilege: across from the White House, in Downtown Manhattan, in Beverly Hills, and in more than a dozen cities across the United States.
What began as a protest in Minneapolis against the killing of an African-American man by a rogue white police officer has now developed into a raging nationwide fury against the ruling establishment, illustrated by growing throngs in front of the White House seeking not only justice but also a political change. A heaving mob of demonstrators was evicted from Lafayette Park, across from the White House, after they brought down barricades that the Secret Service was hard pressed to protect, resulting in the use of tear gas and flash bangs to disperse people.
Expletive-laced anti-Trump graffiti was sprayed on government buildings and protestors also headed to Trump properties in New York City and Chicago to express their anger at a President who has warned that he will not tolerate violence and threatened strong-arm methods. While he and other establishment figures have denounced the arson and looting and said such actions dishonor George Floyd, the black man who died after being kneed by a white police office, many black leaders are echoing the words of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. to explain the outpouring of anger: A riot is the language of the unheard.
The matter has now gone beyond the murder of just one individual, with community leaders across the country pointing to systemic racism in the country that has led to a heavily-armed and militarized police force routinely killing with impunity black men (and even black women; the George Lloyd murder overshadowed another brutal execution of a woman who was shot 20 times by police in Louisville, Kentucky). Emboldened by a system that rarely brings such white murderers to justice, while disproportionately incarcerating blacks for minor crimes, white vigilantes earlier this year shot dead Ahmaud Arbery, an athletic young black man who was jogging in their neighborhood, on mere suspicion of a robbery. The crime was discovered quite by accidents several weeks later.
Such incidents — compounded by large-scale job loss and death from pandemic that has disproportionately affected black people – is resulting in snowballing protests across the country on the broader issue of justice. A President who has invoked racist tropes from the past, using expressions such as “when the looting begins, the shooting begins” and threatening to unleash “vicious dogs” – has only exacerbated the situation. On Sunday, the White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien went on air to defend Trump, saying his tweets were only meant to de-escalate violence, while denying there was systemic racism in the country.
But several public figures are now calling out the President for his racist proclivities, saying it is time to acknowledge the grievances of the black community. The entertainer Lady Gaga joined fellow singer Taylor Swift in excoriating Trump, calling him “a fool and a racist” who holds the most powerful office in the world, “yet offers nothing but ignorance and prejudice while black lives continue to be taken.”
Trump meanwhile phoned the family of George Floyd, the slain black man in Minneapolis, five days after the incident and three days after the community rose up in anger. Floyd’s brother Philonise told the local media the President spoke over him and did not give him a chance to express himself. “I was trying to talk to him, but he kept pushing me off like “I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about,” he said in a television interview.
Meanwhile, Derek Chauvin, the cop accused of murdering Floyd in broad daylight, on camera, and in cold blood, is reportedly on a suicide watch in a county jail. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and the Floyd family and activists supporting them are demanding the charge be upgraded to first-degree murder, which implies a deliberate and pre-meditated killing.