George Floyd killing: US can run but it can’t hide from its legacy of racist police brutality

George Floyd killing: US can run but it can’t hide from its legacy of racist police brutality
5 min read
24 Mar, 2022
As we approach the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death, a moment which sparked international outcry against racist policing, we must take stock of the failures by US president to address the problem, writes Richard Sudan.
US president has only paid lip-service to black communities' experiences of racism. [GETTY]

Following the brutal murder of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in the United States in 2020, the country descended into months of protests with millions calling for an end to police violence.  This summer will mark the two year anniversary of that rallying point.

The demands reverberated throughout the nation for the police to be held accountable for their actions, and for measures to be put in place ensuring that the structural inefficiencies which led to the murder of Floyd, be eradicated. 

Also in the mix, was the call to ‘defund’ the police entirely.  Prominent establishment figures like former president Barack Obama dismissed those calls, and warned activists that such slogans presented obstacles to genuine police reform.

Joe Biden too, has remained consistent in his opposition to defund the police, calling for them to receive even more resources, nationwide. in his recent state of the union address, he doubled down on this position, which resulted in bipartisan applause in the house chamber.

''Statues might be built of the victims, and new legislation may be named after them, but nothing will fundamentally change in the US’ long cycle of racist abuse through state power with these tactics alone.''

While many democrats were once enthusiastic about pushing the defund slogan and calling for real police accountability in the run up to the election, in the time since Biden became president, the phrase has morphed from defund the police to refund the police.  And the police have indeed been allocated millions of dollars in funding.

In addition to this, the much lauded George Floyd Justice in Policing Act stalled in the senate. In reality, even if passed into law, the impacts wouldn’t have a radical impact, let alone actually solve the problem.  Biden also promised a special task force or police oversight committee, something he could form without the rubber stamp of Congress. None of this though, has materialised.

Perhaps none of this should be a surprise. Despite his image, the reality is that Biden has clear bad form when it comes to black US. His authorship of the 1994 crime bill which devastated black communities, is proof enough. 

Despite his record the president still promised to have the backs of black Americans, especially given they are a community which voted him into the White House. So, shouldn’t this mean that Biden has an extra responsibility to get a handle on policing?

Voices

The president has suggested that changing the behaviour of the police is simply a question of more training, and more funding.  It isn’t.  The criminal justice system, from top to bottom, needs to be cleansed of structural bias and white supremacists so that it punishes those guilty of abusing power. This is no easy or quick task, even with the political will.  

But police officers who are intent on abusing their power and/or have white supremacist leanings, and who may have signed up to the force purely for a license to act on those desires, will not be discouraged from carrying out acts of violence. The question of training will therefore not prevent racist policing from happening.

Simply put, their abuse of black people is no error which can be corrected through supervised workshops or trips to the museums of black history. 

The existing rules already demand that the police protect the lives of the innocent-not compromise them. It’s these existing rules which need to be enforced. Otherwise, the perpetual cycle of black people being killed by the police, with officers evading accountability, will continue. 

Statues might be built of the victims, and new legislation may be named after them, but nothing will fundamentally change in the US’ long cycle of racist abuse through state power with these tactics alone.

The recent killing of Amir Locke once again ignited conversations about police brutality. Locke, who had committed no crime, was another young black man gunned down in his own bed.  He died because of the government’s failures to get any sort of meaningful hold on the problem of unrestrained police violence in the US.

And let’s be clear, it isn’t just activists and those affected by police brutality who are acutely aware of the scale of the problem of police violence in the US, as well as its disproportionate impact on black people. The wave of Black Lives Matter demonstrations which took place worldwide in 2020 following Floyd’s killing highlighted this fact.

Just last year, an international inquiry made up of lawyers, judges and legal experts from across the world concluded that anti-black policing in the US fits the criteria for crimes against humanity. They called for an international probe into the situation, and produced a number of recommendations for the government at a state and federal level.

To date, however, the White House is yet to even acknowledge the report. And this, it seems, gets to the heart of the matter and the disconnect between Biden's position, and the reality that anti-black racism is embedded at the centre of policing.

Lawyers, the UN, and human rights advocates all over the world have been highlighting the problem of police brutality, calling for the US to get its own house in order before speaking about other human rights issues around the world.  Though symbolic, Iran even threatened to sanction the US, over accusations of anti-black racism.

The world is speaking in one clear voice about the ongoing atrocities faced by black Americans at the hands of the police.  The US can run, but it can’t hide forever. It’s time for Biden’s administration to take its head out of the sand and commit to a program which will tackle anti-black racism and corruption in US policing, once and for all.  That is the only way to deliver true justice.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.