Of George Floyd, racism and police brutality
When the Americans fought for, and unilaterally declared, their independence from Britain in 1776, a critical element was their assertion of the equality of all human beings created by God..”We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”…
It was indeed a great declaration and assertion of what God willed for all of us. However, this declaration might have been directed at the British colonial masters. Otherwise, the lack of sincerity in it was evident in the fact that those who made the declaration did so at a time when fellow creations of God were kept in degradation as slaves. Even when the declarants got their independence and wrote their constitution in 1787, the slave was regarded as three-fifths of a human being for the purpose of taxation and representation. The fractionalisation of the slave, whose descendants are the African-Americans of today, was then considered to be a great compromise between the agricultural South, home to the slave owners, and the industrial North.
Then came a great President in the person of Abraham Lincoln who detested slavery and issued the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. The official abolition of slavery did not end all the evils associated with it. The black person continued to be degraded and still regarded as a fraction of a human being in the thinking of those who assumed themselves to be white supremacists. What would appear to be a great breakthrough was made in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, thanks to the activism of great African-Americans like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, among many others, and the empathy of great Presidents like John F.Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Civil Rights Act ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. In spite of this lofty legislation, discrimination did not end in the psyche of racists. African-Americans were still discriminated against, killed and maimed by those assigned by the state to protect lives and properties. A very recent example of brutality against the African-American was the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman. The spontaneous reaction of African-Americans and the global outrage this has generated should, hopefully, lead to reform and better race relations in a nation which is still work in progress.
The outrage that greeted the murder of Mr Floyd was unprecedented, an eyesore to decent sensibilities, not least because people saw him crying and dying from the aggression of his racist killer…This ugly scene reminded not just a few about their experiences with one form of racism or the other. For sportsmen and women who had been booed and jeered at by racist bigots, it was an opportunity to recant their experiences and identify with a global alliance of some sort. Racism and police brutality are daily experiences in most multi-racial nations of the world, with those of the black pigmentation perpetually at the receiving end. Social distancing could wait for a moment, those at the receiving end of racism and police brutality were oblivious of the danger of coronavirus as they trooped out in their thousands to protest the murder of George Floyd. It was a global coalition of collective anger, sadly exploited by looters, in many important cities of the world.
In the United Kingdom, protests that started with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA have brought some other issues into perspective. People have again been questioning the morality and essence of celebrating the lives of those who participated in slavery and colonialism. The statue of Edward Colston, a prominent slave trader from Bristol, was brought down by protesters. Quite a number of other prominent statues have been a subject of heated debate. Oxford University recently voted to put down the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College. Professor Kole Omotoso, a celebrated author and writer, is of the view that monuments of those who sold their own peoples into slavery should also be pulled down. However, those who believe history cannot be killed see no rationale in destroying historical monuments. Some suggested that, rather than destroy, controversial monuments should be consigned into museums. The government, on its part, warned that protesters who took the law into their own hands would be prosecuted.
There are lessons for other nations, especially our country Nigeria, where even black on black brutality has continued to be perpetrated by law enforcement agencies. There have been reports of the police killing innocent Nigerians who refused to bribe them even with as little as 50 naira. A few years back., a naval officer was arrested for shooting to death a motorcycle rider who had dented his car. One is yet to know what punishment was meted out to this officer. The typical attitude of the average Nigerian to the murder of a fellow citizen has been rather casual. The type of outrage that followed the murder of George Floyd-not jungle justice or looting-will drum it to all that life matters. No one has the right to take the life of another.
Those of us who reside in foreign nations have a duty to work for the stability of our home nations. We may be residents in America or Britain but this should not mean we can continue to support or encourage those who intend to destabilise our home nation. Our home will always be our home, regardless of current economic status. Every nation of the world is work in progress. Even mighty America, as we can now see, has a lot to do before it can call itself that great nation of God that every nation of the world should be. Hatred of one another, either because of ethnic or religious differences, tends to deny us the moral authority to pontificate on the hatred that exists because of differences in colour. Humanity can be the only winner in the final analysis.
Finally, the significance of leadership in the progress and peaceful co-existence of a nation cannot be over-exaggerated. The leader of a nation should be for all his or her citizens, including those who may not have voted for them in an election. Great nation-builders know this and that is why they are great in history. The lack of experience of the current American President, Donald Trump, was quite evident in his management and utterances in the aftermath of the protests that greeted the murder of George Floyd. Too bad that not just a few regards the President of a great nation as a racist-in the very year he is seeking reelection.
Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom
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