As of the time of this writing, the demonstrations against systemic racism in the United States which erupted following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers have taken place for 18 consecutive days. This act of cruelty by those in whom we as Americans entrust our lives has sparked outrage, violent rioting, soul searching, as well as confusion overseas. As an American expatriate in Shenzhen, not a day goes by I don't get asked by my Chinese friends and colleagues about what's happening. My hometown of Indianapolis hasn't gone untouched by what's transpired these last two weeks, so I'd like to share with everyone in Shenzhen the logic underlying all this chaos.
Why would people protest in the middle of a pandemic?
As demonstrations continue across the nation, at the forefront of everyone's mind is the risk posed by SARS-CoV-2 and its spread at these events. This is an understandable concern, given the dangers posed by asymptomatic carriers and the likelihood of their attendance at protests. However, the existence of a pandemic by no means negates the necessity of protesting against racial disparities in our society.
These protests don't come purely in reaction to only one instance of law enforcement murdering one unarmed African-American citizen. It's in response to an economic and political system that has contributed to, among other issues, poorer health in minority communities. To understand the severity of the situation, we must bear the following statistics in mind (the numbers come from the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington D.C.):
• Almost 50 percent of African-Americans live with a chronic illness or disability
• African-Americans are at 40 percent greater risk than European-Americans of having high blood pressure, leading to heart disease and stroke
This happens in large part due to the fact minority groups often lack access to clinics and specialists because of income and housing. The system itself has created a public health crisis older than the pandemic, and one cannot be ignored for the sake of addressing another.
What do young Americans think of the current political system? Do they want reform?
This question is crucial, and the answer is a resounding yes. Younger Americans largely view the federal government as being controlled by and subservient to the wealthiest 1 percent of society, particularly Wall Street and corporate sponsored special interest groups, producing a lobby that leaves many Americans without a voice in the democratic process.
However, there are specific demands being made by Americans of all ages and ethnicities at these protests as a means of preventing future incidents similar to what transpired in Minneapolis and elsewhere:
• Allocate financial resources away from municipal police departments and toward projects that will develop the infrastructure and quality of life in minority communities
• Establish independent inspector bodies that investigate misconduct and criminal allegations against law enforcement officials
• Require de-escalation training for every police officer and annual review courses
It is only when these demands are met that confidence in America's police forces can be restored.
(The author is the program director of Shenzhen Global Culture Exchange Ltd.)