We are all George Floyd!

Most of us must have been troubled by the news of what is happening in the US in the aftermath of the horrific death of George Floyd, who was killed by police officers.

Jun 07, 2020

By Anil Netto
Most of us must have been troubled by the news of what is happening in the US in the aftermath of the horrific death of George Floyd, who was killed by police officers.

These must be worrying times for the people there — not just the pandemic and the economy but now, the protests in response to the horrific police brutality and callousness in Minnesota.

These things happen all over the world, from time to time, but to actually see someone’s life being slowly snuffed out on video, almost in slow motion, to hear him uttering “I can’t breathe” and to see him gasping for life was something else.

This callous murder is not something that happened overnight. Many others have died, victims of police brutality. For many African-Americans, this is the reality on the streets, especially in depressed neighbourhoods. Many of them dread being stopped by a police officer for any reason.

There is a pattern here — the racism that lies beneath the surface, which goes back all the way to the slave trade.

We thought the civil rights movement of the 1960s would have made more people more enlightened. Those who spoke up against the racial injustice too paid a heavy price — Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X come to mind — the latter two with their lives.

This racism is not something happening in isolation; it is also systemic. African Americans have been disproportionately affected in many areas, especially in healthcare and the economy. Because many of them live in crowded homes, lack access to healthcare and are in essential frontline work, they are disproportionately  represented in the US COVID-19 death toll — perhaps almost twice compared to their share of the population.

So we cannot look at heavy-handed policing and racial inequality in isolation from structural problems: lack of access to healthcare for the poor, neoliberalism that concentrates wealth in fewer hands, lack of balanced nutrition, regressive taxation, the casualisation of labour or labour “flexibility”, low wages and loss of job security.

As the economy slides and after decades of neoliberal policies, many ordinary people are feeling the economic pain. It then becomes easier for unscrupulous politicians, some manipulating social media, to channel the people’s frustration towards “the Others”, the minorities in our midst — whether they are ethnic or religious minorities, the LGBT community, “liberals”, migrants, refugees … you get the drift.

In this way, the political schemers can safeguard their cushy positions while enriching their cronies and families, all the time promoting themselves as the saviours, defenders or protectors of nationalistic or conservative values. Which is precisely what Donald Trump has been doing.

The tragedy is that Trump has been using Christian fundamentalist fervour for his political gain. The churches in the US that are backing him have to do some serious  soul-searching.

But Trump and the fundamentalists are not alone. Politicians in many other countries, faced with economic challenges, partly of their own doing before the coronavirus, have been courting support from exclusivist, fundamentalist religious or right-wing nationalist groups.

They subtly channel domestic dissatisfaction of the economy among ethnic or religious majorities towards imaginary enemies of the state – whether minorities or migrants.

We don’t have to look very far to see how this game is played. We are all too familiar with how race and religion are manipulated for political gain.

People might feel helpless when they see what is happening in the US, which is struggling on many fronts, and in other places around the world — the fallout from the coronavirus, poverty, racial injustice, ethnic and religious bigotry, xenophobia and now a looming economic depression with so many job losses.

If that’s not enough, there is that ‘small matter’ of climate change, looming water shortages, the loss of biodiversity and the threat of nuclear war.

In many ways, all of us, like George Floyd, are finding it hard to breathe. These problems are collectively suffocating  humanity and even choking the planet. “Mamma… I cannot breathe!”

It would be hard not to feel depressed by all this.

All this was happening around the time we celebrated Pentecost, when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

More than ever, we need to rely on the gifts of the Spirit — wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel and fortitude — to make sense of what is happening in the world, to discern our course of action and to summon our courage to press on against great odds.

Hopefully something good comes out of these traumatic times but at the moment, it is hard to say what that could be. We need reforms to policing (especially an independent police complaints commission), people-oriented economic reforms, social and political reforms. And restoration of the ecology.

Faith means we have to go where we are needed, even if it is to places we’d rather not go — even if we don’t know what the consequences will be — or sometimes despite knowing the consequences eg from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross.

During these troubling times, we must believe the protests and struggles — not just in the present but those of earlier decades — and the fervent hope for change, will eventually result in a great awakening. Creation, which has been groaning and labouring for so long, must be renewed and transformed.

Say no to racism and injustice wherever it may exist! We owe it to ourselves and to the global community we are connected to, to make sure George Floyd’s death was not in vain.

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