“I Can’t Breathe”: Enough is Enough

Source: Richard T Song Taatarii, Star Tribune, AP

Minneapolis is literally on fire since George Floyd, 46, became the latest in a long line of black men and women to die in police custody. Derek Chauvin was called to the scene because Floyd was accused of writing a bad cheque; the scene climaxed with Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, brutally suffocating him in broad daylight.

Video footage captured Floyd’s murder, restaurant surveillance footage discounted the claim he was resisting arrest, and outrage has exploded across the state, country, and globe. Within 24 hours protests and looting in Minneapolis, coupled with social media uproar, has electrified the world.

President Trump wasted no time in announcing via Twitter that he would send in the National Guard if the Mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, did not take the lead:

However, the Mayor has outlined his support for Floyd and has called for the offending officers to be arrested:

The protests continue, becoming ever more violent, including the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd precinct being set on fire. More buildings have been set ablaze, there are currently 40 demonstrators under arrest, and one person has been shot. Teargas has been used by the police and the refusal of Target to hand out milk to help the affected protesters has led to its stores being looted across the state.

A state of emergency has been declared across Minnesota state, and protests have spread to New York City, Denver, Los Angeles and other US cities. As this story is being written, a CNN crew have been placed under arrest for reporting the protests, issuing an apology from the Governor of Minneapolis.

Source: S. Maturen, Getty Images

I can’t breathe’ is the chant cascading across the cities, and not for the first time. The history of police brutality in America is shocking: in 2019, more than 1000 people died due to police brutality – there were only 27 days in 2019 when the police did not kill someone. In 2014, Eric Garner was murdered in exactly the same way as Floyd, saying the same final words, in New York City. In 2014, no-one was arrested or indicted for Garner’s murder, but today, the four policemen responsible for Floyd’s have been fired, and there are calls across the city for them to face criminal punishment.

In the last few hours, protesters’ voices have been heard: Chauvin has been charged with 3rd degree murder and manslaughter, which in Minnesota is punishable up to 20 years imprisonment. The investigation is ongoing; Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, added: “we have never charged a case in that kind of time-frame, and we can only charge a case when sufficient admissible evidence to prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt as of right we have it”. However, the other policemen at the crime scene are yet to face punishment, and there are many unhappy with Chavin’s charge criticising it for being too little too late.

The US has far more incidents of killing due to police brutality than the rest of the Western world. Mass shootings have killed 339 people since 2015, but police shootings over the same time span have killed 4,355 people. Black people represent 13% of America’s population, but 31% of the victims of police. In 2014, the UN Committee against Torture condemned this brutality and highlighted the:

“frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals”

Associate Professor of Criminology, Lorie Fridell, explains the issue of implicit biases affecting our perception of threat; in studies, even Black and Latino officers were more likely to shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white one. The main reason for this bias development is:

“in our country, people of colour are disproportionately represented amongst the people who commit street crime”

This is one reason black people have faced far more police brutality than white people. One of the positives of this finding is that it progresses past the regressive tactic of blaming individual behaviour for these events, not that offenders should not be individually punished, but the problem is far wider and systemic than being a ‘few bad apples’.

Treating the issue as systemic allows us to see the other issues caused by the bias. For example, when we look at the racial and ethnic makeup of US prisons it is substantially different from the demographics of the country as a whole: In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners. Assuming that this is because there is more crime in black communities than white ignores the real issue. And as we learn every time a black person is murdered by the force that should protect them, just because a system functions it does not mean it is functionally correctly or sustainably.

The imprisonment rate for ethnic minorities is declining; one reason is organisations such as the Innocence Project:

“The Innocence Project’s mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment”

The organisation uses DNA to exonerate innocent inmates; 47% of freed innocent people in the US are black. Looking at the cases, there is shockingly little evidence for the majority of the initial convictions, and it would be absolutely fair to say that there is explicit and systemic racial discrimination at play:

  • African-American prisoners who are convicted of murder are about 50% more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers;
  • The convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were 22% more likely to include misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants;
  • A black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white sexual assault convict. The major cause for this huge racial disparity appears to be the high danger of mistaken eyewitness identification by white victims in violent crimes with black assailants.

• The issue of racial discrimination is not applicable to the criminal justice system only. It leaks through into every facet of daily life – where is it coming from?

• How can it be stopped?


Further Reading

Michigan Law School, Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States

The Guardian, George Floyd protests: what we know so far

Clara Browne-Amorim
Francesca Mele

12 Comments

  1. Pingback: 13th - The New Global Order

  2. Pingback: Thugs in Uniform? Police Brutality in Kenya - The New Global Order

  3. Pingback: Press Freedom in Europe: Only a Fairytale? - The New Global Order

  4. Pingback: Protesting for Change - A Conversation with Caroline Skye Grossman - The New Global Order

  5. Pingback: Colonialism in Education & the Working Class - The New Global Order

  6. Pingback: La Partecipazione Politica Giovanile in Italia - The New Global Order

  7. Pingback: Young Overseas Chinese and the Identity Quest - The New Global Order

  8. Pingback: Nigeria #EndSARS Movement: Where Is It now? -The New Global Order

  9. Pingback: [REPORT] US Police In The #BLM Protests - The New Global Order

  10. Pingback: Belgium and Slovakia Invesitgate the Death of Jozef Chovanec - The New Global Order

  11. Sam X

    Miss Browne-Amorim,

    I come from a perspective of general skepticism in regards to mainstream stories these days. I wish to raise a couple of points with you out of interest in balanced and reasonable discussion, for my perception of this article is that as noble as its highlighted cause may be – that of true justice and fairness along racial lines – it misses out on important counter-points, hence missing out on the whole truth, which may or may not be the aim of this blog for all I know. So, I shall lay out my points here in chronological order corresponding with the article, open to your perusal and potential response, should you have the time and interest in doing so.

    1.

    “…restaurant surveillance footage discounted the claim he was resisting arrest,” you say.

    Have you seen the full bodycam footage of the arrest? See it for yourself if not: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPSwqp5fdIw. Clearly, the man very strongly resisted arrest, saying things like “I’m claustrophobic” when being told to get in a car (despite having been driving a car himself minutes earlier, as shown in the video), and was already saying that he couldn’t breathe before being knelt on. This footage had to be LEAKED, for whatever reason. Clearly, the evidence in this footage does not fit the narrative; mainstream sources such as CNN played the damage-control game with gross misrepresentations of the leaked footage such as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESGXmWh0z7c. The mainstream media are not on the side of truth.

    2.

    “…in 2019, more than 1000 people died due to police brutality – there were only 27 days in 2019 when the police did not kill someone.”

    “Police brutality is the excessive and unwarranted use of force by law enforcement” – Wikipedia. You have chosen to denote every American death at the hands of police in 2019 under this definition (referring to data at https://www.statista.com/statistics/1124036/number-people-killed-police-ethnicity-us/). I don’t think I have to research each of those deaths individually to deduce that not every one of them was a result of excessive and unwarranted force.

    3.

    “In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners. Assuming that this is because there is more crime in black communities than white ignores the real issue.”

    If the crimes themselves are not the “real issue”, then what is? Are you trying to say that racism is a larger factor than the actual crimes committed when it comes to the incarceration of blacks in America? Do you have any data to back that up? I’m guessing not, since you seemingly are aware that black Americans commit more violent crime per capita than white Americans do. It is concerning to see you dismiss that fact as not being the “real issue”. Sure, racism has always been a factor in police behaviour in America, but to assert that such bias is the larger issue really trivialises the actual fact of people committing heinous, destructive crimes.

    Okay, so those are the points of contention I have picked out. I would like to assert that I wish not to detract from the seriousness of the overall issues of racial discrimination and police brutality in the US; rather, I wish to offer counter-balance to your points, in the name of truth. I look forward to your reply, should it be coming.

    Regards

    Sam X

    1. Thank you for your response to our article!

      I would like to respond to point 1 & 2 jointly as I believe they correspond to the same issue. I think the outrage from the arrest was caused not by the technicalities of George Floyd’s death, but the fact that the police were responsible for the death of an unarmed man. There seems to be a general passiveness to the ability of police to act with excessive force, able to murder someone who’s crime did not in any way deserve that sentence. It is not the job of the police to kill, to brutally harm, but only to arrest so that someone can be brought to a fair trial. The police in the US kill a lot of people, a ludicrous amount compared to other first world countries, such as in the UK where there have been a comparative 164 total deaths in police custody since 2004. There are, of course, factors to consider like the abundance of guns and thus relative higher stakes when detaining someone suspected of a crime in the US. However, George Floyd’s death brought to light that this is not the only reason for higher police custody fatalities: the lightness of the crime, the lack of any weapons, and the ratio of policemen to suspect in no way justified such an excessive response, yet he was killed. If these policemen were unable to appropriately detain someone in this situation, then they are clearly unfit to serve and protect the public. This was not the only case where the police acted unjustifiably towards an unarmed suspect, as the BLM protests highlighted with Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin, which were heinous and destructive crimes committed by unfit policemen. Police brutality is not a micro-issue but a macro-one.

      For point 3, I would really like to point to the work of the Innocence Files, a team of pro-bono lawyers working to exonerate innocent people from prison. They display that the ‘real issue’, as I have called it, is not just racism, although that is an important factor not just traced to policemen but the entire criminal justice system and the communities it serves. It is also lower socio-economic status, higher police presence in these communities, as well as scientific and medical mistakes and much more. It is not just obvious racism but institutional bias against people of colour and poorer people. There are some interesting statistics regarding this here: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html but I would definitely recommend watching the Innocence Files documentary, which can be found on Netflix, where they cover a lot of these trivialities and the more complex actual reasons that there are more non-white and poor people in prisons than wealthier white.

      Thank you for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *