The year 2020 started with a global pandemic and continued with tens of thousands of people protesting police brutality in the United States. The story is not new and black people have long been victims of systematic and institutional racism across the country. Over 1,000 people were killed by the police in 2019. Yet, black people were 3 times as likely to be killed than white. A number of controversial cases have emerged throughout the past few years, attracting unprecedented media coverage and public attention.
In 2013, a number of community organizers and activists decided to start a movement that today is well-known globally as ‘Black Lives Matter’ or BLM. The wave spread fast across the world and protests were seen in major cities, particularly in the United States from time to time. However, there have never been protests nearly the same scale as there are today. Hundreds of thousands started protesting on May 25th as the news about the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis broke out.
The video that clearly shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for roughly 9 minutes, sparked massive protests across Minneapolis. Soon, despite the global pandemic, especially as the United States is the epicenter of it, other cities started to join Minnesota in the fight against systemic racism. Soon, major metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and others were covered in protests. The Republican government even decided to introduce curfews in some of those areas but they were not effective as protesters kept taking to the streets.
The police violence, once again, became evident as countless footage of the officers physically assaulting protesters broke the web. Among hundreds of such videos, the one in which a riot police officer pushes an elderly man onto the ground without a reason really managed to spark another wave of protest, not internationally. Reportedly a 75-year-old man hit the ground with his head and was left alone until the police noticed that he was bleeding.
The events developed across the United States resulted in massive protests and symbolic acts of solidarity all around the world. Protesters gathered at US embassies in Helsinki, Stockholm, Paris and many other cities. In London, tens of thousands gathered outside of the US embassy despite lockdown rules. As of now, the BLM protests are gaining momentum across the United Kingdom as the statue of Edward Colston, the 17-18th century slave-trader fell and was dumped into the harbor in the city of Bristol. Brits are now starting to confront their past as a colonialist, racists state. Anti-Churchill sentiments have also been voiced around the country.
Why do some countries not understand the BLM movement?
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of protesters have turned to aggressive ways of voicing their message. As a result, many benefited from the situation, and looting along with mass vandalism started across the United States. President Trump was widely criticized for Tweeting ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’ in response to protests. The latter is a famous quote by a racist Miami police chief, Walter E. Headley, who used the motto against the increase of violent crime in the city.
Unfortunately, despite the visible outcome of police brutality in the United States, the current situation is not well-understood in many nations. There is a continuous criticism raging towards the protesters in various countries amid the lack of proper information about the movement. Moreover, in some places, the protests are used for entertainment purposes as many high rollers casinos were seen allowing bets on protesters. People are eager to bet on whether protesters will start looting in certain cities or not. Such examples are undermining and downplaying the importance of the protests and their genuine cause. The latter often even benefits the rise of far-right movements, openly attacking the BLM protesters. Betting on something of this importance both historically and socially certainly could spark a further backlash. Despite the rising number of such examples, many famous brands are also taking action against them. They, along with individuals from different parts of the world, are asking national governments to condemn betting on protests and declare them illegal amid the potentially high risks.
Systematic and institutionalized racism is not an issue in many countries. This is caused by the historical background that some countries have while others simply do not. Colonialism, slavery, and the rule of imperialist nations over the centuries have created a firm soil for future movements. In simple terms, without any radical change in the system, this historical background in one of the most diverse countries on earth has been a bomb ticking, waiting to explode.
George Floyd’s death and the aftermath were not well-understood in many Eastern and Central European countries. In nations like Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, and the Baltic States, there is no cultural or historical background for systematic, institutional racism, particularly from the police. Therefore, for those countries, acknowledging and understanding that the police could show brutality and violence based on someone’s race is extremely difficult. There were even banners at a protest in Warsaw, saying that that something really bad should be happening with democracy if Poland is protesting.
Besides the United States, the same has been happening in the United Kindom, which is one of the very few countries across Europe with a history of extensive colonialism overseas. Black people have been a part of British society for centuries and the fact that there are still statues and symbols of racism and prejudice standing does not help. What happened in Bristol was yet another attempt of Brits to confront their dark, racist past and try striving towards a better future. Yet, unlike the United States, systematic and police racism is not an issue across the United Kingdom.
Therefore, one can not blame people of certain countries just because they do not understand the BLM movement. Most likely, their country has never oppressed, enslaved, or tortured members of the black community. But in countries like the US and the UK, statues of Edward Colston and others should keep falling.