For the sake of George Floyd and black lives everywhere, make this moment count

For the sake of George Floyd and black lives everywhere, make this moment count
Comment: George Floyd's death has brought a window for change. Now is the time to listen to the activists who’ve been laying the groundwork for years, writes Aadam Muuse.
7 min read
09 Jun, 2020
'We refuse to let his death be in vain' writes Muuse [Getty]
The killing of George Floyd has ignited a global response. We are living through a moment of profound unrest, with protests taking place across the world under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

For those recently woken up to the crisis of racism, and in particular police violence, it might be tempting to see this as unprecedented. However, history shows that Floyd's death is just the latest in a long line of deaths without accountability or justice. 

This is not a new phenomenon. In the US, a black person is killed at the hands of the police or racist vigilante violence every 28 hours. Many of these victims' names never reach the public, but those that do have served to highlight the systematic and brutal nature of the way in which the black population of America has been subjugated for centuries.

The revolt in Minneapolis, led by black youth of the city, has sparked a much needed public conversation about racism that has since gone global. Protests are not just about racial injustice in America, but the world over. Indeed, the racism experienced by Black America also plagues these protesters in their respective nations. 

Street mobilisations in Paris last week demanded justice for Adama Traoré, also asphyxiated to death by police, and numerous others across Europe highlighted the racism meted out on black communities.

In the UK, since 1990, we have seen on average one person die every week in custody - with black people disproportionately affected. 
All of this begs the question: how did we get here?

For those recently woken up to the crisis of racism, and in particular police violence, it might be tempting to see this as unprecedented

For a number of years now, political movements have been bubbling away; silently forging alliances, and breeding the right conditions. Networked social movements that have found a common language under the banner of Black Lives Matter have made these widespread revolts a possibility. 

The birth of a movement

Black Lives Matter, as a movement, came to the fore in the summer of 2014, following the murder of Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Almost immediately, both the slogan and the movement, captured the attention of people across the world. The weeks and months that followed brought solidarity mobilisations, and inspired further acts of resistance to racism globally.

In time, the conversation transformed from one of police violence to the various ways racism manifested itself in a variety of contexts. The school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration, the housing crisis, poverty wages; all these, and more, have become targets of the Movement 4 Black Lives (M4BL) in a series of abolitionist demands that it has been agitating around for the past five years.

Laying the groundwork

Illuminating the backdrop to the current wave of Black Lives Matter mobilisations makes it is easy to see how the slow and arduous task of organising, taken on by campaigners, is what has made this moment of revolt possible.

The invisible work of consciousness-raising, that has often been a labour of love by queer and women leaders at the forefront of the movement, has been an integral to winning over public opinion and normalising the language more commonly associated with seasoned political organisers, than teenagers having discussions with friends.

This is the strength of the movement. In its simple framing of complex issues, it has been able to articulate both the problem and the solution. Slogans taken from the words and actions of fatal victims of police violence are just one example of its powerful and clear-cut message.

George Floyd: 'I can't breathe'

"I can't breathe." These were the last words of George Floyd, as his life was so violently suffocated out of him by Minneapolis PD officer Derek Chauvin. Famously, they were also the last words of Eric Garner in 2014; killed by NYPD. And those of Jimmy Mubenga, as he was killed by the British state that same year.

Many questions remain unanswered regarding the methods used by law enforcement officers in their dealings with the public. Chokeholds, placing a knee on a person's neck and the small of their back, are just a few techniques that have led to countless deaths due to asphyxiation at the hands of police and other officers of the state.

Some groups, such as 8 Can't Wait have called for piecemeal reforms focusing on these fatal aspects of police interactions with black people. But interestingly, the demands coming out of the movement are now going much further than that.

Make no mistake. These changes in policy are informed by the radical reimagining of society that BLM activists have been formulating for years

Building on the half a decade of policy formation and imagining of a radically transformed society, we have seen a push for abolitionist demands become more mainstream. Last week saw Minneapolis Public Schools announce the termination of its relationship with Minneapolis Police Department, followed by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board voting for a similar resolution on their end - both unanimous decisions.

This weekend brought the Minneapolis City Council's announcement of their intent to disband Minneapolis Police Department. And even Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor, gave in to the demand to defund the police; announcing an unprecedented cut of $100-150 million to the police budget last week, that will be redirected to projects in poor and racialised communities. 

Make no mistake. These changes in policy are informed by the radical reimagining of society that leaders in M4BL have been engaging in and formulating for years.

Read more: Trump, racism and America's original sin

Carpe diem

The window of opportunity forced open by the movement on the streets, has put changes on the table that might have been hard to imagine only a few months ago.

As author and activist Naomi Klein argues in her work 'The Shock Doctrine', power often consolidates itself in moments of disaster or crisis; and the pandemic has been no different. We saw states grant further powers to police, with them disproportionately being used on black communities.

Subway cops in New York City have harassed black youths under the guise of controlling the pandemic, and fines have been handed out in the UK for suspected flouting of social distancing rules. Meanwhile, crowds in the more affluent neighbourhoods of NYC were left undisturbed by police, and majority white crowds in the UK coming out to celebrate VE Day showed disregard for those same social distancing rules that black people are disproportionately criminalised for.

From ridding public squares of statues glorifying racist figures of the past, to abolishing the police and the prison system. We can do all this, and more

The coming weeks will prove crucial to determining the trajectory of this growing global movement.

Already we are seeing a crackdown on people's right to protest in major cities across. We've seen the repression of journalists, legal observers, and even the arrest of children; all this in the so-called "enlightened" liberal democracies of the West.

If the movement is to see sustained wins, it must first set in its sights the ways that our rights are being curtailed, and our right to protest must be defended and extended. We must recognise that with the crisis of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to redraw the economic and political landscape; then seize it.

The death of George Floyd was a catalyst. In the brave acts of civil disobedience and revolt, we are seeing people honour his memory, and refuse to let his death be in vain.

Now, more than ever, we must organise against racism, and in doing so radically transform our society in brave and daring ways. And we must not limit our imagination in doing so. From ridding public squares of statues glorifying racist figures of the past; to abolishing the police, and the prison system. We can do all this, and more. If there is anything to learn from this moment it is this: another world is possible.

Aadam Muuse is a political organiser working with various movements in the UK, and a Peace Studies student.

Follow him on Twitter: @AadamMuuse

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.