Black lives

I spent eight minutes this morning watching a YouTube video of a black man in Minneapolis die. He was lying on the ground, being restrained by a police officer who had put his knee into the man’s neck. The victim was begging to be let-up, saying that he couldn’t breathe. Bystanders protested the violence and attempted to intervene, fearing that the man might be seriously injured, or worse. A police officer stood by impassive, keeping the crowd away, while the perpetrator of this crime seemed indifferent, his hands in his pockets.

After eight minutes paramedics arrived. By then, the victim was silent and still, as he had been for the minutes before. The dragged his lolling body onto a stretcher, claiming later that he ‘died in hospital’, though, for all intents and purposes he appeared lifeless then, and the lack of urgency suggested that the paramedics knew it.

Allegedly, this man had been resisting arrest. In that case, put him in cuffs and take him away, and fair enough. Instead, the officers chose to punish him. Why, you ask? Unfortunately, there appears one obvious answer to that – because he was black.

It was an awful thing to watch, knowing that the man’s life was ebbing away when it could so easily be saved. It was a callous act, fuelled by the pointless cruelty of officers in betrayal of their role. It’s being investigated by the FBI now. The officers should be charged but, you know, who has faith in that anymore?

It’s not as if this is a one-off. If I was a black man in the states, I know I’d be wary of police. How many times have we seen black men accosted by police in the street or driving their car, and how many times have we seen a gun drawn on them and shots fired? It’s almost a trope.

There must be many times when nothing untoward happens, and there must be many decent police officers – but clearly, there are also officers who are racist and violent. There’s a pattern of black people being victimised because they are black, and it’s no wonder that they protest and rebel. So would I. Take a knee – absolutely.

This case recalls another from about five years back when another black man complaining he couldn’t breathe while in police restraint. He died too, and you might recall the protest then, and NBA players taking to the court with “I can’t breathe” emblazoned across the front of it. And what’s happened since? It’s probably worse.

It’s not just the police, though they are repeat offenders. A few weeks ago, the awful story emerged of a black man taking a jog – Ahmaud Arbery – who was set upon by a father and son, both white, and shot dead. Their claimed he was acting suspiciously (by running), and thought he’d committed a crime. So they acted the vigilante, just as the KKK does.

Last night I watched another video, more innocuous thankfully, but troubling in a different way. A woman in central park was out with her dog and had let it off its leash in an area it wasn’t allowed. A man – a birdwatcher – asked her to put the dog back on the leash. She responded violently, which is when he began to film her.

She didn’t take well to being asked to do the right thing and began threatening him by saying she was going to call the police and tell them an African American was threatening her. The implicit and racist threat is obvious. She then called the cops on him though he was doing nothing wrong, all the while half choking her dog to death.

By the time the cops arrived, they had gone, but the video went viral. The woman has been since fired from her job because of her racism, and the dog was taken from her because of cruelty.

I know last week I complained of online pile-ons and over-reaction. I spoke of how so often people choose to be offended and to take the most offensive take on any given situation.

This week I have to say this woman has got her just rewards. It’s there on film, and it’s clearly racist, and she seems an unpleasant person by nature. She’s claimed that she isn’t racist and she probably believes it, which is one of the more worrying aspects of this. She’s seemingly educated and probably says most of the right things when prompted, but when push came to shove, she reverted to racist bullying.

A lot of this stuff has been going on forever, but I wonder if the advent of Trump has empowered these racists to act out their bigotry more readily? It’s not helped when so much of this behaviour goes unpunished and offending police officers are let-off.

I don’t know how this ever gets fixed. Even assuming Trump is ousted in November, a lot of this is now hard-wired into sections of society. I don’t expect them to go quietly, incidentally, and I don’t see Biden as a leader who can put a stop to this. In truth, it goes much deeper, and it needs education and cultural reform. That’s the work of generations, and the US is heading in the opposite direction.

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