A black May '68? How George Floyd's death was the last straw
The United States has become the hotbed of social discontent accumulated over centuries by the system's endogenous racism.
"Soyez réalistes, demandez l'impossible," ("Be realistic, demand the impossible") read a banner in the streets of Paris at a demonstration of the so-called "May 1968", a seven-week phenomenon framed by demonstrations, general strikes, and the occupation of universities and factories.
What the intellectuals and young students were demanding in the French capital 52 years ago is not much different from what the American community has been demanding for the last seven days in the streets of the country: the dismantling of traditional institutions.
Last Monday, the whole world was shocked to see an unarmed African-American man succumb to suffocation below the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis.
His last words were "I can't breathe.”
His name was George Floyd, and he had been arrested after officers responded to a call for alleged forgery. Hours later, Floyd, 47, was pronounced dead.
In the wake of the social media scandal, the state police department announced that the four officers involved in the murder had been fired.
For the entire country, this was the final straw in an epidemic of law enforcement killings of people of color.
In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic –which has demonstrated the profound social inequalities to which the black and Hispanic communities in the country are subject– the February murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery while jogging and the death of Breonna Taylor from guns fired by police officers in her own home have turned the wrath of millions of people tired of the country's endogenous racism onto the streets.
Since Michael Brown's death in Missouri in 2014 triggered the Black Lives Matter movement, nothing seems to have changed. The call for police reform is still not structural, and millions of African Americans in the country agree that their skin color is a crime in the eyes of the authorities.
“What is true about this moment that was also true in 2014 is that these are the symptoms of a centuries-old virus of white supremacy in America,” said Brittany Packnett Cunningham, co-founder of the Campaign Zero movement against police violence, to The Guardian.
“The expectation that black activists and organizers and writers and leaders alone were going to be able to solve this in six years is as insulting as it is unrealistic.
“It’s unrealistic because it took us hundreds of years to get into this set of circumstances, and it’s going to take us more than six years to get us out. And it’s insulting because it’s actually the work of non-black people to uproot anti-blackness, and it is the work of white people to dismantle white supremacy, because it directly benefits them.”
Since Floyd's death, protesters have taken to the streets in most parts of the country, from New York City to Philadelphia and Columbia, S.C. Amidst burning police cars, blocked highways, and smashed businesses, authorities deployed the National Guard, tear gas, and even rubber bullets, according to national media reports.
Cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Denver, Miami, and Milwaukee have declared curfews, and states such as California have announced a state of emergency.
One person was shot dead in downtown Indianapolis, and police have warned residents that the city is not safe. A 21-year-old man sitting in his car was also shot dead in downtown Detroit a day earlier after someone opened fire on a protesting crowd, the Washington Post reported.
In New York City, two-dozen police vehicles were set on fire, resulting in dozens of arrests. People defied curfews in cities across the country and experienced looting, theft, and arson.
In Philadelphia, protesters broke into a store near City Hall and tried to knock down a statue of a former mayor.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) said he was "fully" mobilizing the National Guard in the Twin Cities. The Guard has also been activated in Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, and Utah.
Activists and community leaders have joined protests across the country, declaring that this is a long-awaited social movement.
In a speech that has gone viral on networks, activist Tamika Mallory, former co-chair of the Women's March, said Black America is "in a state of emergency" last Friday.
At a podium shared with other leaders such as Jamie Foxx and NBA star Stephen Jackson, Mallory said: "Black people are dying in a state of emergency.”
Mallory referred to the burning of buildings and the looting of businesses in Minneapolis during a week of sharp protests in the city and others across the country, as protesters took to the streets to denounce a history of racial violence in the United States.
“We cannot look at this as an isolated incident. The reason buildings are burning are not just for our brother George Floyd,” she said. “They’re burning down because people here in Minnesota are saying to people in New York, to people in California, to people in Memphis, to people across this nation, enough is enough.”
“We are not responsible for the mental illness that has been afflicted upon our people by the American government, institutions, and those people who are in positions of power.”
“I don’t give a damn if they burn down,” Mallory added. “I don’t give a damn if they burn down Target, because Target should be on the streets with us, calling for the justice that our people deserve. Where was AutoZone at the time when Philando Castile was shot in a car, which is what they actually represent?”
Referring to law enforcement officers who are paid by U.S. citizens’ tax dollars, Mallory argued that companies and individuals who are silent against the brutality of Black Americans are just as responsible for the violence happening on the streets.
“So if you are not coming to the people’s defense then do not challenge us when young people and other people who are frustrated and instigated by the people you pay. You are paying instigators to be among our people out there throwing rocks, breaking windows and burning down buildings,” she said.
“And so young people are responding to that. They are enraged. And there’s an easy way to stop it. Arrest the cops. Charge the cops. Charge all the cops. Not just some of them. Not just here in Minneapolis. Charge them in every city across America where our people are being murdered.”
Mallory demanded that elected officials and leaders to do their jobs to ensure that America is the free country it espouses to be for all Americans and not just an exclusive few.
“It has not been free for Black people and we are tired. Don’t talk to us about looting. Ya’ll are the looters!” Mallory shouted.
“America has looted Black people! America looted the Native Americans when they first came here, so looting is what you do. We learned it from you.”
“We learned violence from you! So if you want us to do better, then damn it, you do better!”
Although on Friday the officer who murdered George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree murder, the demonstrations in the streets seem to continue and transform into a challenge to a system that needs to be dismantled.