The call for change | Michael Jansen - GulfToday

The call for change

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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Protests over George Floyd’s death could force the US and other countries infected with the plague of racism, to finally end discrimination.

George Floyd’s life followed the trajectory of many slain black men but his death has launched a revolution. His 6-year-old daughter Gianna, who used to ride sky high on his shoulders, proclaimed, “Daddy changed the world!”

Indeed, since his May 25 suffocation death by a white policeman in the city of Minneapolis, protests against racism have erupted in hundreds of cities in the US and around the world. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in Canada and Mexico in North America; Brazil and Argentina in South America; Britain, Germany, Holland and France in Europe; Kenya and Nigeria in Africa; Australia and New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region; and Israel and Palestine in this region.

In the US, Floyd’s death has already initiated change. Nine out of 12 Minneapolis municipal council members voted to disband its police force and create a new system which serves all communities in the city and Democratic members in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation providing for major police force reform.  

George “Perry” Floyd’s fate was almost “maktoub,” written. He was born in 1973 into a poor black family then living in in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and raised in Cuney Homes, a public housing complex, in the black Third Ward of Houston, Texas. His brother, Terrance, recalled that the two boys slept in the same bed until they were grown although by the time he reached 12, “Perry” was 6 foot four inches (or nearly two metres) tall.

During an interview with CNN, his second grade teacher produced 8-year-old Perry’s childish essay and drawing when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. She was surprised when the well-behaved boy wrote he wanted to be a supreme court judge. Although the boy never realised this extraordinary ambition, his death may compel the US Supreme Court to legislate against the systemic poverty, discrimination, and dangers constantly faced by black children and adults in the US.

At Yates High School, named after a former slave and Christian pastor, Perry played basketball and American football. He attended a local community college for two years before entering Texas A&M University, Kingsville, but dropped out before earning a degree. If he had stuck with his course he might have escaped his background and become an engineer, an agriculturalist, or a scientist. The upward trajectory of his life began to descend when he dropped out of higher education. Whites also enter this trajectory but they do not suffer the prejudice and persecution people of colour encounter.

He returned to Houston where he customised automobiles, played basketball, and became a rapper in a hip-hop group. For some time he provided leadership for youngsters in his community but eventually turned to petty crime and was arrested for theft and drug possession. In 2009, he joined the 25 per cent of black men who serve a period of incarceration when he was went to prison for four years for armed robbery.

Following his release, he joined Resurrection House, a local Christian group with the aim of reforming. In 2014, he moved to the northern state of Minnesota, where had hoped to make a “fresh start” but found only menial jobs as a lorry driver and a bouncer in a nightclub.

Perry met his death in Minneapolis, a prosperous city where the black community is depressed economically and, disproportionately attracts the unwelcome attention of the police. Four years ago, a black motorist Philando Castile was stopped by a policeman of Hispanic origin and shot dead while reaching for his license. The policeman was acquitted although the charge was homicide and there phone video evidence of the unprovoked killing provided by Castille’s partner who was in the passenger seat. 

On the evening of his death, George “Perry” Floyd used a $20 note to buy a pack of cigarettes from a grocery store he frequented. A teenage employee thought the bill could be forged, demanded the return of the cigarettes, and when Floyd refused, called the police.

The employee said Floyd appeared “drunk” and “not in control of himself.” The absent store owner, Mike Abymayyaleh, who is of Palestinian origin,  said he would not have brought police into a such a case  involving a black person.

A police vehicle arrived after Floyd rejoined two friends in his car parked nearby.

A white, newly graduated officer Thomas Lane, drew his gun and ordered Floyd to show his hands. Lane pulled Floyd out of the car, handcuffed him as he resisted arrest and said he was being detained for passing counterfeit currency. When, the police claim, handcuffed Floyd struggled to avoid entering the police cruiser, he fell to the ground and supervising officer Derek Chauvin put his left knee on Floyd’s neck while Lane held his feet. Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe, please, please.” He called for his mother. Bystanders urged the police to stop.

Six minutes later Floyd was unresponsive; after another two minutes and 45 seconds he was dead. Black officer J. Alexander Kueng and Asian officer Tou Thao have been chargedwith murder along with Chauvin and Lane. As phone video taken by bystanders of Floyd’s death have gone round the world, the Minneapolis department could not escape their indictment.

Floyd’s autopsy revealed that he had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his body when he died. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid meant to be used as a painkiller but has been popularised as a cheap recreational drug. It has caused a spike in overdose drug deaths in the US in recent years. Methanphetamine is a powerful stimulant also in common use in the US and elsewhere. The presence of both in his system could be seen as proof of his despair. Floyd also had antibodies of Covid-19, the global plague which, in the US, disproportionately infects the black community. Like many Afro-Americans he became unemployed when the virus struck in March.

University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole (Informed Comment) tracked down some of his recordings as “Big Floyd,” the rapper, before his descent into despair. Then, Cole wrote, he spoke of poverty, rage, “dreams of escape and rebirth.”

Protests over his death have granted Floyd rebirth and could propel change which could force the US and other countries infected with the plague of racism, to finally end discrimination, provide proper education to disadvantaged children, and offer black (and brown)  citizens, the main targets of police brutality, decent futures, proving that “Black Lives Matter.” While George “Perry” Floyd will never have the benefit of change, his five children and youngsters the world over may — but only if people keep up pressure for change.

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