Don’t think the killing of black people in the US has nothing to ...

Ideas

Don’t think the killing of black people in the US has nothing to do with SA

The murder of George Floyd and many others like him is a failure of leadership – and a taste of what’s to come

Columnist
Smoke rises around a protester during a demonstration to call for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis police.
Clash and burn Smoke rises around a protester during a demonstration to call for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis police.
Image: AFP/Kerem Yucel

Many readers of this column will stop reading when they realise what I am about to talk about today: the racial profiling of black people in the United States and their sickeningly frequent murders by members of the police services in that country. Don’t look away. Don’t look away now, because these things matter and will not be solved except by your voice and your action.

Please do not look away and tell me to write about the death and murder of people here in SA. I have written about Andries Tatane and, seven weeks ago already, about the brutal murder of Collins Khosa in Alexandra township. Stay with me because what happens in the US has a huge significance for this country and the world. So don’t look away. Don’t stop reading.

Beginning what is hopefully its recovery from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world watched in horror this weekend as images of protests, rioting, looting and killing across America filled television screens and went viral on social media.

What is happening in the US was predictable and preventable. Over the past few years, with the rise of social media, we have seen a depressing and painful toll of black men being harassed, abused and killed for merely being black. I have written on these pages about the scourge of black victimisation in the country, everything from people being harassed in their own houses to the horrific story of Botham Shem Jean, a beautiful, gospel-loving finance guy who was shot and killed in his own flat by a cop.

The New York Times wrote: “The racial profiling of black men and women by white police officers put new phrases into the American vocabulary – driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black. The shooting of Mr Jean seemed to demand its own, even more disturbing version: being at home while black.”

These writings are not the only signals to what was happening in the country. When American football star Colin Kaepernick started kneeling to the singing of the American national anthem to highlight police brutality and the killing of black people he was not only vilified by the white establishment, he was hounded by the likes of President Donald Trump and essentially stripped of the ability to earn money. He remains what is known as a “free agent” – essentially frozen out of the professional game.

At a time when the world faces the most challenging health crisis since the 1918 flu pandemic ... you have a man who cannot see the humanity of others sitting in the White House.

Black men have been shot at, maimed and killed by the police in the public eye with sickening regularity. The images of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer, a man who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while the life drained out of him, are revolting. Yet the American establishment, represented by Trump, has chosen not to be horrified by the public murder of this man. Instead, we have seen far more tweeting and anger about the riots than we have seen about the murder itself. What does this establishment value? Not the life of that black man, certainly. Or any black man, for that matter.

So the failure of the president of the US to act to stop this litany of murders of black men, or to at least speak strongly and clearly on them, is a failure of humanity. It is a failure of leadership. What was needed to prevent the fire this week was leadership. That commodity is, sadly, lacking in the White House right now.

So, at a time when the world faces the most challenging health crisis since the 1918 flu pandemic, when global unemployment is ratcheting up into the stratosphere and when international geopolitical tensions are on steroids, you have a man who cannot see the humanity of others sitting in the White House, telling people to drink unproven medicines and disinfectants to fight the coronavirus. As the coronavirus threat continues to rise, he has withdrawn the US from the World Health Organisation after withdrawing the country from many other international bodies. The Trump presidency has been a wrecking ball that has set the world back decades.

This is where we are now. A man lay dying in America, the latest in a long roll call of black men killed by their alleged protectors. The person who is supposed to bring the country together sides with those who continue to carry out these murders. This is the man who has shredded international treaties on climate change, peace in the Middle East, and has turned his back on bodies such as the United Nations and many of its agencies.

What you are seeing on your television screens, the looting and the killing, is result of poor leadership in America. It is a template for what awaits the world.