On May 25, 2020, the Minneapolis police officers in the USA brutally and cruelly murdered George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American in cold blood. Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes at a convenience store by a staff who lodged a complaint against him through 911. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was lifeless, no thanks to Derek Chauvin, then an American white police officer, who savagely pinned down the African American to death with his knee despite pleas from the victim that he could not breathe. Thanks to the highly sensitive and hyperactive media and the so-called “citizen journalism” via social media platforms, the gruesome murder scene was captured and the video clips shared across the globe. Emotions were raised worldwide leading to protests in various forms from peaceful to violent against the barbaric act, which resulted in Floyd’s death.
The world was shocked watching a white policeman pinning a black man on the neck with his knee, stopping his breath until life was squeezed out of him. The assailant was not only unperturbed but seemed to be having fun while three other police officers watched without an iota of concern. The shock was beyond limits considering where the scenario was played, right in the heart of the US of A, not Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan or any of the so-called “underdeveloped” countries. Racism fueled that killing, white supremacy over black; a kind of thing many imagined was dead in “developed countries” long ago. Despite the emergency situation of Covid-19 pandemic, people, in the seven continents of the world, both black and white came out massively to express their disdain and total rejection of racism in all forms and ramifications. The rest is history.
The protesters of Floyd’s killing used the opportunity to invoke the names of other black men and women gruesomely killed by American police in recent years, including Michael Brown (Ferguson), Philando Castile (St. Paul), Ezell Ford (Los Angeles), Eric Garner (New York City), Bettie Jones (Chicago), Tamir Rice (Cleveland), Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge), Breonna Taylor (Louisville), and hundreds more, named and unnamed. To these, protesters outside the United States also added other names: D’Andre Campbell (Brampton, Ontario), Mark Duggan (London), Tina Ezekwe (Lagos), Collins Khosa (Johannesburg), James Mureithi (Nairobi), Joao Pedro Pinto (Rio de Janeiro), Adama Traoré (Paris) and countless more.
Prior to his death, Floyd was an unknown entity. He was just another black American battling with all kinds of challenges of life to eke a living. However, in death, Floyd became an instant internationally acknowledged hero. His funeral would have been attended by millions but for the covid-19 pandemic restriction. It was attended by selected 500 guests including politicians and celebrities at the Fountain of Praise church. President Donald Trump paid a special tribute via video- “When there is justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice in America“. Similarly, the Governor of Minnesota, Mr. Tim Walz called on people to honour George Floyd by observing silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the period for which he was pinned to the ground before dying. The funeral was aired live on broadcast and cable television. As it began at noon, the New York Stock Exchange went silent for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the longest period of silence on the stock-exchange floor in its 228-year history. Another tribute came from Veteran civil rights activist, Reverend Al Sharpton. He told the funeral service: “All over the world I see grandchildren of slave masters tearing down slave masters’ statues”. He added, “God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s gonna change the whole wide world”. It was certainly a grand event televised live to the whole world. What are the lessons from Floyd’s death?
The first lesson is the total rejection of racism by a clear majority of the world population. Black, colored, white and indeed people of all races enthusiastically demonstrated their intolerance of any form of racism especially practiced against blacks. Beneath this rejection, there still exist minority groups who continue to nurse their white supremacy ideology over all races. It is trash, as they will lose sooner than later.
The second lesson is the total rejection of social injustice in the form of extrajudicial killings. People sturdily abhor how privileged few in positions of authority take the law into their hands and mete out punishment to the extent of killing an accused without due process. To build a just society, there must be social justice for all.
Another lesson is the level of American police brutality exhibited to the world; cruelly killing a fellow human in cold blood, slowly and steadily until George Floyd took his last breath. It was the most traumatic video clip I ever watched. If American police could execute this level of human rights violation on an open street, one wonders what could be happening behind the counter or cell under their custody? How many people are frequently receiving Floyd treatment in police cells all over the world? Police are the same all over either in America, Nigeria, India, France, etc. This level of police brutality is becoming unacceptable to the generality of American citizens and therefore invoking urgent police reform to address the issue. Consequently, protesters, politicians, religious leaders, and other groups called for police reform in the United States. This has led to laws, proposals, and public directives at all levels of government to address police misconduct, systemic racial bias, and police brutality in the United States. Some of the common reforms involve bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants and improving police data collection procedures. Other countries may soon join to reform their police force and make it friendlier.
The lessons from Floyd are not exhaustive but for time and space limits, only few can be analyzed. However, one key lesson that must be discussed is “love”, a 4-letter word, hyper-sensitive and applicable in all aspects of human endeavor. Floyd’s circumstantial death attracted multi-million sympathizers to him with a high degree of love. Beneath the rapture, Floyd was lovingly remembered Tuesday as a “gentle giant”, a father and brother and athlete. His aunt, Kathleen McGee, called and said of him “Perry Jr, pesky little rascal, but we loved him.” His sister, LaTonya Floyd, in tears said, “I’m going to miss my brother a whole lot and I love you. And I thank God for giving me my own personal Superman”. Ivy McGregor, a high school classmate, said “George Floyd has left a legacy of love, loyalty and service to Jack Yates Senior High School”. These were expressions showcasing deep love for Floyd by those who knew him before his unfortunate death. Floyd was loved because he possessed love. It is this love that makes people remember you, creates hope and makes life enjoyable to live. We must inculcate love for each other to live peacefully and enjoy our life. It was lack of love that made Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis white police officer murder George Floyd, a black American in a most gruesome and coldblooded manner. Imbibing love can make the world a better place for all.
Professor Othman, Executive Director, National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU, Zaria, writes via [email protected]