International Affairs

Black Lives Matter

America the land of freedom, opportunities and happiness. Many say it is the land of milk and honey which simply indicates that life challenges are easy to overcome once you step foot onto its land. The American Dream is captured by writer and historian, James Truslow Adams, as a state of being where ‘Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement,’ with neither social class nor the circumstances surrounding their birth being a barrier to success. This does not seem to be the case now. People of colour do not seem to enjoy their freedom. In the health sector they seem to suffer the most, and in the economy they rarely even matter. How about education and civil rights? Invariably, we recognise the chant which people of colour intone every other day: ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER!’ Barack Obama being the first Black president of the country made African Americans in particular finally feel a sense of belonging and proud to call the land home. But that was about to change when the next president Donald Trump stepped in as the 45th president of the United States.

During Trump’s presidential campaign in 2015, he mentioned that he was a candidate of law and order; but the rate of police brutality against coloured people especially is now on the increase. The Trump administration, within two months of assuming power, forced a sweeping review of court-enforceable reform packages known as ‘consent decrees’ imposed on numerous problematic police departments. Trump revoked a directive, issued by the Obama administration, to end the US government’s use of private prisons, a marker of the first Black president’s attempt to end the disproportionate incarceration of people of colour.

Eight months into his presidency, Donald Trump freed up local police to once again procure military-grade equipment and Sessions had effectively cancelled the US government’s flagship community police programme. But, outside the culture wars and quiet policy rollbacks, the most treacherous effect of the Trump presidency on the battle for equal justice and fair policing was its partial suffocation of the story itself. Young men continued to die and the movement for Black lives received less and less media oxygen.

Walking through the historical alleys of incidents that have taken place in recent times, the memory of the 2018 incident remains fresh as ever, of when 21-year-old EJ Bradford was shot three times from behind by an officer in Hoover, Alabama. This incident barely made the news. In 2019, Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old rapper, was shot at 55 times by officers in Vallejo, California, as he lay sleeping in his car. His death also had failed to arrest prolonged attention.

This year 2020, bloody rioting across Mississippi’s prison system had led to more than a dozen deaths. Yet, Trump was seen to have made no vital intervention. George Floyd, another Black man was suffocated to death after a brief interrogation and it was the Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison, who had intervened in the George Floyd case to elevate former officer Derek Chauvin’s murder charge. Maybe the case would have been obliterated from public memory.

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Few weeks later, protesters’ demand of justice for Floyd was still on when another Black man was shot by a white police officer. The shooting left many in the city of Atlanta once again incensed by the death of yet another Black man at the hands of the police and the nation was nervous about the potential for more destructive flare-ups.

Protesters hit the streets again. Then authorities said 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks had run away from the police after failing a sobriety test and grabbing a taser from an officer during a struggle with him.

Still, Jacob Blake another African-American added to the list, shot seven times at the back by a police officer in Wisconsin. Violence and police brutality continue to be the same story with just a different name.

With these events happening at the time when many Americans are angered by the fatalities from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and a time when the statistics for America have climbed well above two million cases of COVID-19, the Trump administration may be faced with a transition into a new but dark era in the American history.

The curtains might have been raised in a ceremonial reception which welcomed Trump’s presidency four years ago, but same curtains are on the verge of falling, if not having fallen already. America and its ‘super power’ status is threatened by a Trump leadership that has led the country into a vulnerable state to the chagrin of citizens and the global community.

No doubt that the night has fallen in America as the bloods of blacks have flooded its streets. Will the re-election of Trump – if he ever gets re-elected – bring change to the American polity? The question is left unanswered. Few days ago, during the Democratic National Convention’s campaigns, former Vice President and Candidate of the party, Joe Biden had described this phase in the experience of the United States as one in which the country might be going through dark moments. While political and public-health darkness may have covered the landscape, the incumbent president might have continued to play the ostrich, carrying on with his ambitious second-term pursuit while the Star-Spangled Banner slowly burns down.

Najite Atirena

Categories: International Affairs

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