“I can’t breathe, Officer” “I cannot breathe” repeatedly shouts George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, as he was pinned down by a Minneapolis Park police officer. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck and for the last 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time, Floyd was unresponsive. By the time paramedics arrived, he was rushed him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. All of this started just from a suspected counterfeited 20-dollar bill (142 RMB).
The whole incident was live-streamed on Facebook where within minutes it went viral. The following day (May 26th), protests began to spring up around Minneapolis which eventually escalated into a full-scale riot. Businesses burned, cars torched, stores looted, it was as if total chaos ensued. By May 29th, protests which turned into rioting began to appear in every major city: Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, and much more. From late evening into the early hours, the streets of these cities burned with raw anger and destruction.
To many people around the world, such events are shocking. How could such acts happen in America? Isn’t this a democratic country? Some people rush to judgement citing this as America’s “human rights issue”, labeling it under the great banner of “American hypocrisy”.
However, this isn’t a human rights issue, rather, it is a civil rights issue, and to put it more bluntly, a societal issue.
To understand what happened in Minneapolis and the events that followed, one must examine the causes, which are complex and deeply rooted in American society. On the outside, the protests and riots seem like anarchy and disorder, but in reality they are decades of socioeconomic, political, and cultural problems, all mashed together and erupting all at once. Three words, all interconnected to each other, can sum up the causes the protest turned riots: race, poverty, and distrust.
In America, one phrase defines the opportunities and outcomes one will have in life: the color of skin. In fact, the color of skin determines the area one is born in, the education they receive, and the jobs they can get. Behind the video of the white officer's knee on an unarmed African American male lies a history of racial stereotypes formed from perceptions. One can trace these back to the slavery where Africans were taken and sold to white landowners(1619-1860s). This created the perception that whites were superior to blacks. The Civil War (1860-1865s) was partially fought over the issue of slavery. Although slavery was banned, the perception between whites and black still persisted, in fact, they transformed into a structured form of discrimination that became known as “Jim Crow” legislation. From 1867 to the 1960s, the segregation between blacks (labeled “colored”) and whites divided American society that led to African Americans unable to vote, attain equal education, and get decent jobs.
This division, although outlawed by legislation in the 1960s (Civil Rights Act of 1964), has left its scars and created the racial stereotypes that some whites have come to judge African Americans, which come out visibly in interactions between African Americans and a law enforcement officers. Through the flames and shattered windows, one can see the frustrations of unchanged stereotypes that continue to persist in America today.
Decades of racial discrimination has denied generations of African Americans and their communities’equal opportunity leaving them in a constant cycle of poverty. Racial discrimination has led to unequal educational resources and opportunities leaving them unable to attain jobs. The inability to attain jobs had led to some to turn to crime that ranges from gangs to drugs. This association between crime and African Americans had led to law enforcement more likely target the mover their white counterparts. However, behind that bias lies deeply rooted geographical and social-economic factors. In America, urban areas generally have a higher proportion of non-whites, but lower economic opportunities in terms of jobs and investment.
This can be attributed to racial and demographic trends from post-Civil War to 1980sAmerica. To understand the role of poverty in the protest, one must have a very in-depth knowledge of 19th-20th century American racial and social-economic history, which can be explained in a future essay.
Above the causes of race and poverty lies the issue of distrust. To put it simply, the protests reflect an inherent and strong distrust among African Americans and society as a whole of the government and judicial system. People, particularly African Americans, see courts and the judicial system as an insufficient actor, unable to uphold and prosecute injustices in society. This distrust can be traced back to centuries of institutional discrimination by courts when it comes to how they treated and prosecuted cases involving African Americans. Oftentimes, the outcomes are determined along racial lines. The burning of police cars and attacking police officers is merely raw anger and distrust that people have towards the authorities that they believed do not and will not serve in their interest, and will merely judge them by the color of their skin.
Politicians also further compound to this distrust. Those on the left only move their mouths and fail act while those on the right flaunt and openly show their ignorance and raw racial beliefs. The election of Trump and the appearance of a weak democratic party have led to increasing distrust that politicians only fuel the problem and are unable to propose or put forth solutions to resolve the issues that many African Americans face in America today. Distrust is a multi-dimension issue that requires an in-depth analysis of American politics and society which can be explained in future articles.
Race, poverty, and distrust are three words that summarize the causes of what happen in Minneapolis and the protest/rioting that ensued. However, these three words barely scratch the surface to the causes. For one to understand the origins, one must seek to view it from American perspective rather than from non-American perspective. By doing so, one can accurately judge the situation and learn about American society. From the flames, broken glass, and overturn cars, one can easily conclude anarchy and disorder, however, deep down, lies centuries of anation’s struggle and agony with itself and ideals.