George Floyd, a reflection of global problem
Eight minutes and 46 seconds was how long Derek Chauvin, a white police officer in Minnesota, Minneapolis kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck while handcuffed on the ground and subsequently killing him as he pleaded, “please, I can’t breathe.”
George Floyd was an African-American man who died on May 26, 2020, by the hands of a police officer, while horrified witnesses looked on in utter shock and fear. The whole ordeal was caught on multiple camera phones for the world to see. Since the unfortunate incident, Americans have become outraged, urging for swift legal consequences against the police officer and his colleagues who played a role in Floyd’s death. Peaceful protests also marred by looting and agitated law enforcement have taken place throughout the country, further deteriorating the state of affairs.
In various countries around the world, we see massive protests in support of George Floyd and countless African-Americans who have been killed by excessive force in the United States. The ongoing issue of police brutality is not one that is in a silo. It is a global issue, especially in repressive regimes and floundering democracies where the military and police officers are used by the government to intimidate, coerce and cause fear in the very lives of the people they swore to protect.
What happens to innocent citizens who fear for their lives daily when pulled over by a cop for minor infractions or baseless suspicions because of the colour of their skin? What happens to citizens who live in homogenous countries where race is not the issue, but the psychology of authority is? We have cases and examples in Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, where police operatives have killed innocent citizens with the backing of draconian laws and expectations imposed by those in charge. Floyd is a reflection of a global problem that needs swift balance. Generally, people understand police officers put their lives on the line to protect citizens and communities. We understand the fragility and complexity of their job demands. However, they must also see that excessive force, discriminatory policing, shoot now and ask later tactics without any consequences has taken a toll on black and brown communities all over the world and has compromised the oath that they swore.
If we are to take a balanced approach to police in America and throughout the world, we must implement policies that address several issues. In countries where excessive use of force is the norm of the day, a police officer needs to be trained in tribal and racial biases when it comes to policing as well as only using excessive force in clearly outlined circumstances. There needs to be a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that is specifically suited to address the needs of each country and their respective states. We are in a very critical time that seems to be deteriorating fast. America is still dealing with COVID19, a common enemy everyone has been trying to fight together. During times like this, the actions of law enforcement must be lawful, proportionate, and in line with human rights. As videos continue to expose the injustices both nationally and globally perpetrated by some police officers, governments need to condemn such actions and hold the officers accountable. We can only move forward as a country if the checks and balances genuinely work and are there to protect all people, especially black people.
Yetunde A. Odugbesan-Omede is a professor of global affairs and politics, policy adviser and writer on global issues, law and politics.