death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis
has upended the United States and has resulted in a civil uprising
not seen in over half a century. This has come as the nation is
reeling from a deadly pandemic that has taken the lives of 100,000
people and an economic crisis not witnessed since the Great
most protests since the killing of George Floyd have been non-violent
and have enjoyed majority support in the US, there have been some
that have turned violent, with incidents of vandalism and looting.
Black public figures and the authorities in various US cities with
sizeable Black communities have condemned the property damage
resulting from some of the protests, including Mayor Keisha Lance
Bottoms of Atlanta, Georgia and Mayor Melvin Carter of St Paul,
the real problem the country is facing is by far not these material
losses. Mass protest action that sometimes leads to looting and
property damage is a natural and logical response to decades of
police brutality and impunity.
on these limited violent acts takes attention away from the real
issue at hand here: the systematic impoverishment and socioeconomic
marginalisation under a racially unjust system and the long history
of abuse by law enforcement in communities of colour - which has
continued during these protests.
in Minneapolis in 2020 or in any other social conflict, upheaval,
rebellion or revolution in world history, the violence inherent in
the oppression of a people, the subjugation of a group or the
perpetration of injustice against them produces violent responses.
The French Revolution, complete with guillotines, was violent, as
were the Haitian and Algerian struggles for liberation from France,
and the anti-colonial revolts in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
enslaved Black people in the US sought their liberation through
insurrection and fighting in the Civil War, which were not tame or
subdued affairs, but rather inherently violent. When people - through
pain and suffering, frustration and trauma - have been denied their
rights and deprived of their humanity, and believe they have no
recourse, they are left to feel they must take matters into their own
Malcolm X said, "A revolution is bloody. Revolution is hostile.
Revolution knows no compromise. Revolution overturns and destroys
everything that gets in its way."
American civil rights movement, for all its purportedly non-violent
underpinnings, relied on the Deacons for Defence and Justice, an
armed self-defence group that protected activists from Ku Klux Klan
extremists. Similarly, the Black Panther Party sought to keep their
community safe from police violence and racism through militant
self-defence, community-based empowerment programmes, and multiracial
the urban rebellions of the 1960s - triggered by acts of police
violence similar to the killing of George Floyd - were also violent
and came in response to institutional racism and poverty.
Luther King understood what gives rise to riots, the social and
economic deprivation existing in marginalised communities, and the
priority that some white people placed on tranquillity over justice.
"A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that
America has failed to hear?" he asked, noting that postponing
justice would guarantee recurring violence and riots. "It has
failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over
the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of
freedom and justice have not been met."
the current unrest is not just a reaction to the police killing of
George Floyd. This moment is far greater than a Black man who
suffered the ultimate injustice of losing his life at the hand of the
protests in the streets of many American cities are in response to
decades of systemic racism and state-sponsored violence, which have
persisted despite the achievements of the civil rights movement.
are a reflection of pent-up anger, frustration, grief and trauma in
communities seeking justice for racialised oppression, which today is
not only embodied in the tragic death of George Floyd but also in the
deaths of tens of thousands of Black people from COVID-19 due to
decades of severe
health inequities and socioeconomic precarity.
five decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white
average wealth is 6.7
times greater than Black average wealth. Black people are 12
percent of the population but 26.4 percent of people killed by the
police. Black drivers are 20 percent more likely to be stopped by the
police than white drivers; Black students from kindergarten through
the 12th grade are 3.8 times more likely to receive suspensions from
school than their white counterparts.
facing continuing socioeconomic marginalisation and police harassment
and violence, Black people are also prevented from addressing many of
the issues that plague their communities through the ballot because
of raging voter discrimination.
example, since a 2013 US Supreme Court ruling weakened the provisions
of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, at least 17 million voters were
purged from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018 alone, and typically
these voters are disproportionately Black and poor. This, in addition
to various local and state legal barriers, has resulted in high
levels of disenfranchisement of Black voters.
a country that wages racial violence against Black people daily, it
is no wonder that some - feeling powerless to change the system that
oppresses them - would consider resorting to destruction of property.
the media has extensively covered damage that businesses have
suffered, it is important to point out that protesters have also
attacked what they see as symbols of oppression, including the statue
of Frank Rizzo, the former mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvani - a
racist known for his brutal police tactics against the Black
community - and the statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee and
the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in
overwhelming media focus on looting and "rioting" across
the US has taken attention away not only from the realities that
Black communities continue to face, but also from persisting police
violence against the very demonstrations (including peaceful ones)
police have committed heinous acts of brutality and used excessive
force against protesters across the country, from forcefully
dispersing peaceful protests by using rubber bullets and tear gas to
assaulting and arresting protesters.
only a few cases, policemen have been held accountable. In Buffalo,
New York, two police officers were charged after shoving a
75-year-old man to the ground, causing him head injuries. In
Philadelphia, a police inspector was charged with assault for beating
a protester with a metal baton on the head. The victim, a 21-year old
Temple University engineering student, required 10 staples and 10
stitches in his head. In Louisville, Kentucky, the head of police was
fired after officers opened fire while dispersing a gathering,
shooting dead 53-year-old David McAtee.
various cities, police officers have also targeted journalists even
when they have clearly identified themselves as such, with some
suffering injuries, including one photographer who lost vision in her
left eye after being shot with a rubber bullet.
more than 11,000 people have been arrested during protests across the
their assault on protesters, the police have been backed by the
deployment of the National Guard to a number of states. US President
Donald Trump went even further and threatened to deploy the US
military and shoot looters.
violent reactions of the police and the US presidency are rooted in
the very same system of oppression that led to George Floyd's death
and the mass protests across the country.
a purveyor of violence at home and abroad, America's chickens have
come home to roost. America is on fire, and the arsonists are agents
of the state, stoking the flames with gasoline.
commentary was orignally published by Aljazeera.com