EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Whose lives matter

Writer: Winton Dong  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2020-06-08

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after white police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed to the ground during his arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the United States.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder. The other three police officers involved in the incident were charged with the lesser crimes of aiding and abetting. The brutal police abuse was caught by multiple cameras, and Floyd could be heard pleading before his death, "I can't breathe."

Floyd's death has fueled anger and protest all over the country. Demonstrations have escalated and some turned into looting, burning, vandalism and destruction of property in some cities.

Many prominent people who were outraged at the incident felt compelled to speak out, such as Joe Biden, former vice president of the United States, who said, "Racism against black people was the original sin of the U.S. which still stains the country." Indeed, the protesters were airing their grievances about police brutality and institutional racism in the country.

We cannot expect the U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump to put the interests of black people on an equal footing with white people, but at least he should not regard protesters as mobs and enemies, or threaten to use the Insurrection Act to mobilize all available resources, whether civilian or military, to quench the protests that derived from the righteous cries over the death of Floyd.

On May 29, Trump wrote on Twitter: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." The tweet was the phrase a Miami police chief used in 1967 about a crackdown on black neighborhoods during prior times of unrest. On the evening of the same day, when protesters gathered outside the White House, Trump again tweeted: "Nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs and most ominous weapon I have ever seen." But Trump is not as strong as he seemed to be. According to a New York Times report, he was scared and was rushed by secret service agents into an underground bunker at the White House on May 29.

On June 1, Trump defined the protests being "acts of domestic terror." On June 3, Trump further amplified his hardline rhetoric and urged New York City to deploy the National Guard to stop the "low-lives and losers."

Trump's bellicose attitude, insulting remarks and aggressive actions have only added fuel to the fire, escalating protests. Despite curfews in more than 40 U.S. cities, thousands of protesters defied the bans and hit back to the streets. 

It is a common practice for former U.S. leaders not to make negative comments on the incumbent president. However, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama have all expressed their dissatisfaction with Trump's actions and expressed concerns about the deep-rooted racial inequalities that black Americans face in the country.

Outrage over the death of Floyd has also grown beyond the United States and triggered protests in other places. In neighboring Canada, protesters took to the streets in Montreal and other cities to denounce racial discrimination and police brutality. In Britain, people gathered in London and Manchester to protest over the tragedy. Serious racism against African Americans was also strongly condemned in the African continent.

The death of Floyd is a humiliation to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, with little or even no social distancing, demonstrations not only spark fear of a surge of COVID-19 infections in the United States, but also hurts the image of the U.S. as a self-proclaimed model of democracy.

On June 3, James Mattis, former defense secretary, said in a rare statement: "The president is the first in my life who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us." Frankly speaking, Trump is making himself "great" by pointing fingers at angry protesters. However, it seems that the U.S. is slipping further from being great again under his leadership.

(The author is the editor-in-chief of Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)