Rasheeda Bhagat

India has had its George Floyd moments

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on June 02, 2020 Published on June 02, 2020

The death of Floyd, an African-American, shows that police brutality everywhere is directed at the marginalised and powerless

America has erupted into flames over the atrocious murder by a white policeman of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis last week for using a counterfeit note. And the irony is that in the US, the Minneapolis Police Department is considered a progressive police force for its reforms and training on diversity. It supposedly embraces “community policing” and frowns upon bias of any sort against coloured communities. But all this did little to prevent the brutal murder of a black victim by a white officer, who mercilessly him choked to death.

In dealing with Floyd, who was not armed and didn’t try to flee either, we saw police brutality of the worst kind, riding most obviously on the deeply embedded hatred of blacks by sections of the white community.

The white police officer, Derek Chauvin, had pinned down the 46-year-old black and kept kneeling on his neck, despite Floyd saying several times that he couldn’t breathe, till he lost consciousness.

Despite a third degree murder charge being slammed against the police officer concerned, demonstrations, violent clashes, riots and looting, with the refrain “Black lives matter”, have put the country in a crisis mode. The National Guard has been called out. The White House too has not escaped the wrath of the grieving and angry Americans, as President Donald Trump has added an extra spark to the tinderbox by calling the protesters ‘thugs’ and threatening them with military action.

Police brutality

Police brutality is something that no country is free from. Add to this insensitivity, indifference, or worse, silent compliance, and it is small wonder that we don’t exactly love our men and women in uniform. Eminent writer Paulo Coelho tweeted about police brutality against blacks in Brazil, and actor Will Smith had this chilling comment: “Racism is not getting, worse, it is getting filmed.”

In India too the story is not much different. During the anti-CAA protests, both police brutality and compliance were at their worst at the JNU and Jamia. Later, during the Delhi riots, several video clips showed the Delhi police just standing by and watching the marauders and criminals smashing, looting and burning Muslim properties.

Such brutality is most evident against the weak, marginalised and powerless: dalits, minorities and the poor, with poverty being the worst affected “caste”. During the corona pandemic, which has left millions of our migrant workers stranded without food and shelter and compelled to take long journeys on foot back home, we saw the police danda turning on them.

There are disturbing pictures and videos of policemen beating up migrant workers, who in their desperation defied locked borders or curfews. The anarchy and violence that is ruling the streets of several parts of the US is a warning to us in India too.

We did see anger and violence from migrant workers in Surat and a couple of other places, but the police managed to restore order. But there were barely a handful of angry young men…if lakhs of silent marchers had turned violent, the prospect is too horrific to imagine.

So what is it about the uniform, or the baton/danda that converts so many policemen into such cruel human beings? You just have to watch the Minneapolis video to see the brutal manner in which the white policeman refuses to take off his knee pressed so relentlessly between Floyd’s throat and head.

For decades there has been clamour for police reforms, So what is the remedy? Without an efficient and strong police force any society can degenerate into total chaos and anarchy.

The most worrying aspect is that, after all, the men and women who don the police uniform do not come from Mars; whether in the US, Brazil or in our own country, which is so blatantly being divided into groups with labels such as Hindu-Muslim and upper-lower caste, the police rank and file is drawn from the community. They carry the racial or communal poison imbibed into them by their families, communities or clans into their profession and the bile is out when incidents such as the recent one occur.

When you translate and interpolate this into other professions such as the judiciary, medical care, powerful positions in big companies, and so on, the potential it has to destroy both cultures and countries is petrifying.

But a heart-warming nugget did emerge from the Minneapolis incident. An ‘Indian’ restaurant, The Gandhi Mahal, owned by a Bangladeshi, caught fire, being close to the Third Precinct headquarters of the Minneapolis Police Department, which was set ablaze by protesters. But instead of anguish or anger, Hafsa Islam, the 18-year-old daughter of the owner Ruhel Islam, in a now-viral Facebook post, thanked her neighbours for trying to save it and said: “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover… I heard my dad say over the phone: ‘Let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail’.”

Published on June 02, 2020
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