The world witnessed with shock and disbelief the torture leading to the death of 46 years old, George Floyd, a black man, as Derek Chauvin, white police officer, knelt on him in the presence of other police officers. The footage went viral and kindled an uprising from people demanding justice, first in Minnesota where the act took place then spread throughout America and the world over.
Men and women took it to the streets, fueled by decades, if not centuries of being subjected to brutalities from people whose responsibility is to ensure their security, a feeling of being unsafe in the hands of those that ought to be their saviors.
Following the response from the police to the first protests in Minnesota, many other people in other states, fed up from the long endured Covid19 lockdown pressure, stressed by the current economic situation, uncertain about their future, bombarded by all kinds of media spots, had no other way of escape than the streets to demand justice.
Unlike the riots in Minneapolis, slowly we started to witness peaceful multi-racial protests all across the nation. In some places, these turned violent and others even engaged in looting and demolition of properties. Social media, as usual, broke the record of posts and hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter, #GeorgeFloyd, #BlackTuesday…
But what can we hope from this movement? Should we hope that this is to be the American Spring, blowing in the manner of the Arab Spring that spread across much of the Arab world and which led to some political changes? Even though it is arguable whether this wind in the Arab world did bring about the much needed and much awaited social changes in that part of the world.
America is a nation that is used to protests and riots from days immemorable. But when it comes to mass protest against racial segregation and discrimination, we can recall the August 1963 March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. surrounded by other civil rights activists and hundreds of thousands of people from all races. These mass movements of the 1950s and 1960s brought about some considerable changes because there was an aspect of leadership and vision that guided them.
No matter how genuine these may be, popular movements without a flag-bearer are vulnerable to manipulation and at risk of hijack by a few opportunists, especially in this electoral year. Organic and spontaneous as they may be, they don’t always stand the long run unless there be some kind of non-political leadership to propel a common voice and speak louder on behalf of the mass.
We have heard mixed feelings from the people marching. Even though all may display a sense of indignation and compassion towards the many lives that have been lost in the hands of brutal police officers, there is no common, well-driven ambition about what the people marching would want to see achieved. Where is the Martin Luther King Jr.? Where is the Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, or the Mandela of today’s movement? There is a need for one but most importantly one that is not affiliated with any political party.
I personally believe that to make a significant impact in our societies, we need more civic leaders than politicians. Because politicians have and will always serve the interests of the party to which they pledged allegiance. All that counts for politicians are the numbers of voters. The many they can attract to their party, the better.
For some of the protesters, the current White House administration is the problem, and therefore believe that a replacement of this ought to be the solution. But looking at statistics of police killings for the past 10 years, I realize that the trend has not changed that much. Meaning, a change at the While House now can only be a pain reliever for some people but not a cure to racism and discrimination on the people of color in this country. Unless the rules of the game change, it doesn’t matter the kind of players that are involved. The results will always be in favor of the same predetermined winning team. The history of segregation and inequality in the US does not date from the past decade. Maybe not from the past century. Therefore, let us pause and question history to understand why no matter which administration occupies the White House, history keeps on repeating itself for the people of color in this nation.
As the country embarks on the final leg towards the 2020 elections, all eyes are on the White House that I am afraid, Americans and especially people of color might again fall in the same trap. The rhetoric has been the same: “change the man in the White House and everything will be alright for you”.
Who will rise and pick up the torch of freedom left down on that fateful day of April 4, 1968, as the anti-segregation torchbearer was brought down by a bullet in Memphis Tennessee? The man or woman who will lead this movement to a point of asking the right questions rather than finding solace with the right answers?
If we fail to ask the right questions now, a few years down the line we might realize that we didn’t really pay the right tribute to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the many silent heroes whose brutal murders by police never made it on media headlines.