AS VIDEO footage goes, the image of a prone George Perry Floyd Jr gasping for life is one of the most challenging I have witnessed.
The 46-year-old had been accused of using a counterfeit $20 note in a Minneapolis store named Cup Foods. Four police officers promptly arrived on the scene and — despite protests from onlookers — used undue force on a man whose nominal defiance had hastily wilted.
Video can be edited to conform to narrative, but in this case the uncensored inaugural act of the infamous ordeal only further damned those on duty, leaving little scope for justification.
The unnecessary brutality culminated with a full eight minutes and 26 seconds of uncontested asphyxiation, as George Floyd was choked to death by the knee of officer Derek Chauvin as his peers stood, unmoved by audible pleas for them to check the prone suspect’s pulse.
“I can’t breathe”, George Floyd uttered 16 times to no avail. Within minutes of the video being released, the phrase reverberated across social media platforms, becoming the slogan for an expanding organisation at the forefront of ensuing protests.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has received a mixed reception, with disconnect between those who advocate its ideology, and opposition who deem recent acts a blend of egregious vandalism and benevolent prejudice.
I myself took time to appreciate the movement. As a person of mixed race, I was firmly in the ‘all lives matter’ camp upon BLM’s formation in 2013. I now accept such dogmatic principles were, although well intentioned, the equivalent of picketing a breast cancer awareness campaign because it doesn’t focus on all forms of the disease.
The case of George Floyd is the latest act of blatant discrimination against black people in the USA in recent years. Notably the beating of Rodney King by armed police officers in 1991, the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, and father-of-six Eric Garner being choked to death in 2014, despite not resisting arrest.
Regardless of its rough edges, the BLM movement has been pivotal in shedding light on institutional problems. Acts of mindless insurgence have been balanced by positive advancements such as taking a knee in unity with police officers to honour George Floyd.
In the UK, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being hacked down and dumped into the Bristol docks was gratifying for many, myself included. Such edifices may soon be confined to museums, with London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, announcing an imminent commission to review monuments on public land.
Immortalised in bronze, the illustrious merchant was pivotal in the creation of infrastructure in the city he called home, but his wealth was acquired through human suffering and his ‘redeeming qualities’ are bi-products of torture he inflicted, primarily on people of colour.
The comment sections of various news outlets have made difficult reading during the 14 months subsequent to George Floyd’s death, with bigoted pinheads flooding comment sections with vitriolic ‘us versus them’ narrative.
These sentiments act as rocket fuel for a section of society arrogantly deeming itself among a majority white British populous across the UK refusing to embrace a cosmopolitan nation.
There is no room to judge people based on the shade of their skin or coding of their genetics. I would urge those who do this and are in any way affiliated with me to block yourself from any social media or other links we share.
Admittedly, as times change so do values. It’s problematic to evaluate the historical merits of Winston Churchill, Queen Victoria and Mahatma Gandhi using a contemporary barometer. All three figures having been — literally in some cases — tagged as racists in recent weeks.
Would their actions be reprehensible in 2020? Certainly. Can we dismiss their respective legacies based on attitudes they possessed at least 70 years earlier? Much like the content of someone’s character, the answer is not in black and white.