By Bala Ibrahim
In the last one week, America has been struggling to breathe, as the country’s lungs are deprived of air, due to the eruption of protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, manhandled by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
More than 40 cities have imposed curfews and members of the National Guard have been called to duty in 15 states and Washington, just as President Trump is calling on the governors to deploy the military to dominate the situation. I can’t breathe is the chant in town.
In something reminiscent to the Arab Spring, which saw a series of anti-government protests and rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets, expressing rage and anger over the failure of the government to provide the most fundamental protection in the American constitution, which is the right to life. The protesters want to see an America where Human Rights reign supreme, and the police protect the right of fellow Americans and not where the opposite becomes the norm. Although the accused has been charged with murder, the protesters are not satisfied. They want a country where the security agents would not be used against peaceful protesters, hence, I can’t breathe is the chant in town.
As the protests enter the second week, the momentum has extended beyond the US borders to other cities in other countries, including Nigeria. Thousands of protesters gathered in central London over the weekend, voicing out support for the American demonstrators. Observers say the protests seem to be the worst U.S. violence in decades, as police cars and government buildings are set ablaze, stores ransacked and looted, while public properties are vandalized. I can’t breathe is the chant in town.
For a country like America, the champion of democracy and global bastion of Human Rights, to condescend to the level of killing an unarmed citizen on the street, in broad daylight, and one that does not pose any physical threat to the police, means those shouting Human Rights must have turned to committing Human Wrongs. It is even more painful when the victim’s alleged offense is looked at: passing a counterfeit bill to buy a pack of cigarettes.
According to the sayings of some of the angry protesters, America under Trump is gradually turning racist. Before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, it was Breonna Taylor, an emergency room technician in Louisville, shot dead in her own apartment by officers who used a battering ram to burst through her front door. Before Ms. Taylor it was Laquan McDonald. And Eric Garner. And Michael Brown. And Sandra Bland. And Tamir Rice. And Walter Scott. And Alton Sterling. And Philando Castile. And Botham Jean. And Amadou Diallo. The list goes on and on, and on and on, with black Americans brutalized or killed by law enforcement officers, who rarely if ever, face consequences for their actions. Because of these injustices, I can’t breathe is the chant in town.
What began as simple protests over police excesses has snowballed into something else, a national uprising with unpredictable consequences. The events are fast-changing the country’s political position, as well as posing unforeseen threat to public safety. The convergence of these urban crises are shaping up to transform into a test of Donald Trump’s powers and style of governance, as his major rival in the race to the White house, Joe Biden, today described the President as being part of the problem.
President Trump is receiving criticisms even from his fellow Republicans, as the situation worsens on Tuesday, after peaceful protesters were forcefully removed from outside the White House, to allow the president visit a nearby church for a two minutes photograph. Ben Sasse said, “There is no right to riot, but there is a fundamental, a Constitutional right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest, for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.”
America is certainly under trial, in what may make or mar the democratic credentials of a country that is long held as the epitome of Human Rights. Yes, the chants of I can’t breathe, have come to retell the tale of Human Wrongs in America.
Mr. Ibrahim writes from Abuja, Nigeria