United World Project


Racism, protests rock the USA

5 June 2020   |   Stati Uniti, ,
By Maddalena Maltese

The death of George Floyd caused by a police officer has provoked protests and riots across the country, revealing an open wound: racial discrimination.

At 15.03 precisely, the alert reached all mobile phones: “Citywide curfew in effect for NYC: 8PM-5AM nightly 2-7 June. Essential workers are exempt. No traffic allowed in Manhattan south of 96th Street”. A curfew – as in times of war. But here we’re not in a war zone, we’re in New York, the world’s financial heart, the city of Broadway, already shut down by Covid for 115 days.

Shortly before this, another disturbing text reached some friends in Long Island, the famous upscale region of New York. The message read, “This is the night”. Nothing more. But the message was clear. It would be another night of protests, looting and violence which have been gripping major cities across the USA for over a week, following the death of Afro-American George Floyd of Minneapolis, while he was being arrested for allegedly handling twenty counterfeit dollars. He died under the knee of a white police officer who for 8 minutes 42 seconds ignored his desperate plea for help: “I can’t breathe”.

Mobile phone footage of his death filmed by passersby sparked protests against police brutality. Just a few days before, in Louisville, Kentucky, plain-clothes officers stormed into an apartment without identifying themselves as law enforcement and fired at least 8 shots, killing health-worker Breonna Taylor in error. She too was African-American.  The protests are against enduring discrimination of black people which, despite the civil rights campaign and Martin Luther King’s marches against endemic racism, continues to rot America, where the  13th Amendment  to the US Constitution abolishing slavery has not yet brought full equality for its black citizens.

The curfew to stop racial violence could not halt marches and demonstrations. Marching peacefully, kneeling down in protest, brandishing simple signs with the message “Black lives matter” or wearing t-shirts printed with the face of George Floyd, thousands of people – Afro-American, Latin, Asian and white – continued to fill the streets of Washington, Manhattan, downtown El Paso in Texas, and Minneapolis itself, where a few days ago protestors set fire to the police station of the officers responsible for the death of George Floyd who were immediately dismissed and later all four charged.

In Florida, in California, in Michigan, Atlanta in Georgia and Denver in Colorado, television cameras have filmed police officers on their knees alongside protesters, some setting aside their weapons to link arms or dialogue with them. Others, however, have charged into unarmed crowds, as happened close to the White House, to clear the way for President Trump to pose for a photo in front of St John’s Episcopal Church, damaged the night of 31 May. Bible in hand, the president appeared to be attempting to gather support from the evangelical communities, while Christian leaders were outraged at this exploitation of faith. The Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Wilton Gregory condemned it as a “baffling and reprehensible” violation of “our religious principles”.

President Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric has been censored by Twitter, saying he had violated their rules “about glorifying violence” in a presidential tweet which threatened to respond to looting with shooting. The president appears further and further apart from state governors, more than once labelling them as incapable of managing the crisis. And while on one hand, he tries to impose the National Guard on them, on the other he adopts conciliatory tones to counteract uncontrollable fits of temper, in an increasingly chaotic management of first a health and now a social crisis.

Covid-19 has certainly changed the paradigm of this presidency. Fragilities which have been hidden from sight over the past four years are now clear for all to see, even to the eyes of his most ardent supporters: 108,000 deaths, one and half million cases of infection, 40 million unemployed and now protests across the nation. The press conferences convened to announce the G7 reopening to Russia, America’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, US distancing itself from a China increasingly presented as the enemy, cannot distract world media attention from scenes of a USA filled with devastated store-fronts and the frustration and tears of the poor and excluded. The country deserves better.