The recent death of George Floyd, a 46 year old African American has caused widespread protests around the world. It is not enough to call it death for it was certainly a custodial murder by the law enforcers, one of whom was seen pinning Floyd down with his knee. As with Eric Garner murdered by police in New York City years ago, “I can’t breathe” were Floyd’s final words before he succumbed to the excessive force being used to pin him down. The same words have become a slogan in the city of Minneapolis which is now witnessing sporadic violence and looting when peaceful protests demanding justice for Floyd turned violent, allegedly due to the same excessive police force used while trying to ‘disperse’ them.

It all began when Floyd was allegedly accused of using a forged $20 bill which is a felony and involves questioning the suspect and his alleged intent. But the CCTV footage and viral video says otherwise. The police personnel present were brutish in their behaviour when taking Floyd into custody. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey even said this wouldn’t have occurred if the suspect was a White (European American) person.

This alleged police brutality against a person from a ‘minority’ has a repetitive and identical pattern in many places around the world. Without doubt, our own country too figures in this list. There are numerous examples to cite but what is this identical pattern which is often observed in cases of police brutality?

The United States of America perpetrates a continuous systematic oppression against African Americans. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils have had a long history of struggle with police brutality. During the British Raj, it was an open secret that the colonisers used aggressive force particularly against the Indians and to quell any sort of protests for freedom. The death of Lala Lajpat Rai due to excessive police brutality is something we are all aware of.

This use of brutish force has continued into present times in our country and continues to be great cause of concern. In particular, the use of violent means is extreme when it comes to Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim Indians. Back in 2014, the Bombay High Court even raised it as a matter of concern that a number of custodial deaths were occurring of persons from minority communities.

The death of a 26 year old Dalit youth in Rajasthan in February this year while he was in police custody had raised suspicions, and the deceased youth’s family members have alleged that he died due to excessive assault by policemen while in custody. The Delhi riots which happened a few months back also stand testimony to this, when the whole country watched how events unfolded systematically against the Muslims.

When a community is hostile towards a particular minority group, the police may feel that a discriminatory attitude towards that group is justified. The longer a minority is seen as ‘inferior’, the more likely they are bound to be discriminated against.

This continuous and systematic use of repression and force to unleash a reign of fear among the minorities are all signs of a fascist system which aims to keep them suppressed and gagged. It is indeed worrying that such events have been on the rise in recent times.

The police murder of George Floyd is a stark reminder that minorities all over the world are those at the receiving end, and are often discriminated against. The city police chief of Minneapolis has expressed his regrets over the incident but that will not change the fact that a life was taken away too soon by the manhandling officers concerned.

It is also a time of introspection for the citizenry around the world including India. We must prevail upon the authorities to recognise that excessive police force against anybody is not legal and not advisable, and there are many other ways to handle such situations in a civic manner like negotiated management.

This is in fact a lesson to be learned from the death of George Floyd. Due to this alleged manhandling a life has been lost and a family destroyed. The troublesome relationship between the police and the minorities needs to be sorted out and we need also to make sure that such incidents never take place again.

The authorities should well know that a long smouldering frustration in response to systematic police brutality is in fact a powder keg, a large scale riot waiting to take place. Do the law enforcers want this to happen?

Cover: A protest in London against George Floyd’s death