SO many thoughts. I had wanted to write about Star Wars, one of the worlds biggest films and franchises. I had thought about how it encompasses a fictional world, that many accept, with various species all getting along. It was not always an easy alliance – Star Wars humour – but race was never an issue. Then I remembered the furore that followed John Boyega being cast as a stormtrooper.
Unless you live under a rock or hate sci-fi, you know what a stormtrooper is. The foot soldiers of the alliance, clad in white armour head to toe, plus helmets that make them indistinguishable from one another. Terrible shots. Their presence, for some, in Star Wars, apparently represented some sort of white power, even though they spent most of their time dying.
Boyega being cast as a stormtrooper was wrong. Stormtroopers were white. Really? How did these people know that? A very strange complaint. Racism is a thing and truthfully, a mind made up is a difficult thing to change. Emotion tends to trump logic.
Across the pond, in the US of A, it is June 2020 and the world is in a sort of chaos. In the west, there are tentative signs of emergence from the global pandemic of the Coronavirus, a virus that has taken lives all over the world yet, unlike other deadly diseases, has no definitive signs. Without being tested it is difficult to distinguish from influenza in its symptoms.
Here, in the UK, over the past month, there has been a revelation that the virus has been particularly virulent amongst people of colour – black, Asian, other. It has somewhat emboldened the indigenous populace, especially with the fine weather – not a normality in Blighty – so the parks and beaches have been overrun with families, friends and couples.
It is still a time of caution and nervousness but, with the developed world’s governments needing to get economies moving, the world is trying to return to some sort of normality. In the US, that normality, unfortunately, includes killing black people. On May 25th, a forty-six-year-old black man, George Floyd, was stopped by the police Minneapolis. He had been flagged as a person who used allegedly counterfeit twenty-dollar bill.
He was taken from his vehicle, handcuffed and sat on the sidewalk. Another police vehicle arrived. So now, there are four police officers. The first two officers take him to their nearby vehicle. Floyd does not want to get into the vehicle. Two more officers arrive. Floyd was bundled into the vehicle but one of the officers, Derek Chauvin, who had been warned multiple times for excessive force during his career, pulls him out of the car and onto the road.
Floyd, whose hands are still cuffed, is face down on the pavement. Chauvin kneels on his neck and two other officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, hold down his torso and legs. Another officer, Tou Thao, stands idly by as this is going on. Floyd tries to tell Chauvin that he cannot breathe.
Chauvin tells him that he needs to get into the car. Floyd says he will comply but he cannot breathe. Chauvin does not ease up from his position, maintaining pressure on Floyd’s neck. Floyd is pleading for his life. He cannot breathe. Floyd becomes unconscious, with even passersby pointing out that he is not moving. Chauvin keeps pressure on his neck. Floyd died later that evening, never regaining consciousness.
In the US, it has been the straw. In the UK, almost forty years ago now, confusion and rising tensions between blacks and the police also proved an explosive cocktail and the Brixton riots were the result. Forty years on, Brixton, once an enclave of Caribbean culture and an urban hub has been increasingly gentrified, housing prices beyond many of the people who grew up around the area. It is a different kind of societal destruction.
In the US, Floyd’s death has shocked the nation. Perhaps it is a mixture of Trump’s right-winged rhetoric and isolation, the focus of so many being on their newsfeeds and media. The killing of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin shocked the world but it was an interruption for most, though it was a tragic one, it was still that. Floyd’s death, the manner of his killing, had nothing to detract from it.
Most are still not at work or thinking about work. Many of us have only been watching the news waiting, hoping, for some news that will tell us that we can return to our normality. Then Floyd got killed and everybody knew. Social media which has been vilified, rightly sometimes, for its detrimental effect on the world, on society.
In this instance, social media has united like never before. The information is available for everybody and anybody. The murder of George Floyd – and it was a murder – has shocked so many out of their slumber. That argument of ‘if he wasn’t doing anything wrong, they would not have stopped him.’ Will not wash. Unless the world is going to go back to a time where justice is meted out ad-hoc, on the spot. We do not live in a world where Judge Dredd is a reality. Unless you are black in America.
Those who have watched the videos of the incident and still want to defend Chauvin’s actions may as well sign up for the KKK. At no point was he or any of the other officers in any sort of danger. Apologisers point to Floyd’s alleged sketchy past as some sort of reasoning for his inhumane treatment, yet give their less than exemplary ‘leader of the free world’ a pass for his many documented misdemeanours.
It has been, for too long, okay to treat certain sections of society poorly. Too long has been a subject for the chattering classes to lament about but take no action over. Vegan zealots weep over animals being used as food, LBGTQ are relentless in their efforts to be heard and accepted and every religious fanatic believes their god is the right one.
Being black has always been seen as an acceptable burden, as though it is something one chooses or feels. There is no escaping being black. One just is. One can hang around and associate with as many ‘woke’, colourblind, unaffected people as you want. More power to you but at some point, in some way, one is always reminded of one’s blackness and the trials that belonging to the black race can carry with it. RIP George Floyd.