People have taken to the streets in anger and outrage after George Floyd, a black man, died gasping for breath after a police officer knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground on a Minneapolis street.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Jasmine Rand, a civil-rights attorney who is part of the legal team representing the Floyd family, contextualised the anger. “Black citizens in America are facing multiple pandemics. Black people are 2.4 times more likely to die of Covid-19. Then there is the pandemic of racism and police brutality. They are substantially likely to end up in jail because of the disease of mass incarceration. The weaponisation of racism doesn’t need a gun always; sometimes, just a knee is all it takes.”
Rand says she worries Floyd’s case could run into a dead-end like many in the past. “There are two parallel streams. One is the criminal prosecution and then monetary compensation for wrongful death. We can get the second from the city administration after legal battles, but the main thing is the criminal prosecution that can potentially stop other officers from mindless killings. That mostly eludes us. With Floyd, too, that will always be the worry. Yes, the world has seen the footage and so will the court, but as has often happened in the past, I fear the offender could walk scot-free.”
Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old officer, was charged with third-degree murder and is being held in Ramsey County jail. “He should have been charged with first-degree as this is an act of murder, pure and simple. Also, the other officers who failed to stop him and didn’t allow civilians to save Floyd’s life should also be held accountable. The reason they haven’t charged them is plain and simple: it’s racism,” Rand says.
Rand added the protests that have spilled out in dozens of cities are a cry for equality. “Every 50 to 60 years, when we see mass protests, we see a massive push for more equality for black and brown people. We have to initiate a task force for preventive measures. We need to work on developing a vaccine so that we can prevent this from happening again and you have to vaccinate our children with education and equality. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that prevention is worth a pound of cure. Just like we united as a nation to fight COVID-19, we really have to unite and implement preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease of racism.”
The protests have also led to acts of violence in which shops have been ransacked and parked cars set on fire. “No one is condoning the violence; we certainly don’t want looting and rioting. The greater travesty, however, is the looting of the black lives in this nation,” Rand says. “The context of police brutality has to be understood as the cause of that violence. Until you hold the police accountable, we are not going to put out the fire. To try to turn this around and pin it on the blacks is what a tyrannical system and an indifferent apathetic nation does. The refusal to stop, acknowledge the real underlying reason – the police brutality and the racism – is quite shocking and revealing, really.”
Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Floyd’s family who works with Rand, told The Indian Express: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We need the voices of Indian people to be heard in America protesting the violence that black people have suffered at the hands of police. Racism has deprived them of their equality since the founding of our nation.”
In the past, Rand represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot dead in 2012, leading to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. She has also represented the families of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old shot dead in 2014, and Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead in a park while playing with a toy gun in 2014.
Rand says she remembers the morning after the verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ came through in a Florida court against George Zimmerman, the man who had shot Martin. “I was depressed, really, when Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, called to say this not-guilty verdict will not define her son’s legacy. She said I should get out to keep fighting for other people’s rights. That we have to keep fighting for the other Trayvon Martins out there. That was the most inspirational moment for me.”
Rand also questioned the leadership of US President Donald Trump. “Look at the response of our national leadership from the president. What President Trump is really doing is that he is militarising our nation against democracy. And militarising the tyranny that continues to destroy the guarantees of our Constitution. He is feeding the flames of the fire, and the statements he’s making are reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s, when police officers unleashed dogs on people, tearing them apart. It’s a long fight and it’s not a new fight in this country.”
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