Racial Justice in America: I can’t Breath

Much like the slogan of the Arab Spring – “bread, freedom, dignity” – “I can’t breathe” has the same sense of despair. America is, justifiably, the focus of intense anger, frustration and disappointment from people across the world. United Nations officials have spoken out about the murder of George Floyd.

Like the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who set himself on fire in an act of protest against police corruption and ill-treatment (an incident that ignited what is referred to as the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa), the death of George Floyd has sparked an “American Spring”.

Equality under the law is a cornerstone of human rights. Profiling by law enforcement and other government agencies undermines the promise of equal treatment. Investigating, surveilling, or otherwise targeting people solely on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin is a clear form of discrimination and goes against numerous domestic and international laws. First, profiling drives a wedge between law enforcement and the targeted community members, making them less likely to trust and engage law enforcement, thereby making the whole community less safe. Relying on profiling also gives law enforcement agencies the disincentive to engage in effective investigative techniques. Finally, and most troublingly, profiling results in further discrimination. By engaging in racial profiling, law enforcement legitimizes the marginalization of targeted racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and legitimizes the distrust of those communities. Policies and practices that appear race-neutral but disproportionately restrict the rights and freedoms of people of color are difficult to challenge, and establishing their discriminatory nature in the public consciousness and among policymakers is an uphill battle. Racial pro ling by law enforcement, and the correlate criminalization of people of color, provide one such example.

In Egypt’s Tahrir Square in early 2011 protesters expressed their outrage over police brutality, crony capitalism, corruption, the arrogance of those in power, rigged politics, and their collective marginalization. In Egypt, the protesters who descended on Tahrir Square were inspired, in part, by the memory of Khaled Said—a young man beaten to death by police in Alexandria in June 2010. While the most obvious parallel to draw between the Middle East and the protests happening around the United States is between the deaths of Floyd and Said. The parallels are, in fact, deeper and more profound.

As Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, said during a hearing at Congress “George could not become “another name on a list”George called for help and he was ignored. Please listen to the call I’m making to you now, to the calls of our family and the calls ringing on the streets of all the world.”The people marching in the streets are telling you enough is enough.”

Currently around the world, there is a growing outrage from all groups of people regarding political institutions and prevailing social structures which continue to remove dignity of Black and people of color and visible minority.  These groups, for too long, have been left powerless, and just like in the 2011 Arab Spring, until an unexpected development led to take to the streets in large numbers demanding change were their voices heard – in some instances.

Just like the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matters may be seen as a demand for dignity: as members of the Black American community are forced to confront racism in the US with manifest in the killing of individuals at the hands of police who may never be held accountable for their crimes – just as was done in the Arab Gulf post Arab Spring.

In the past few weeks, faced with massive protests against this racism, President Donald Trump has responded like an autocrat. Trump has repeatedly encouraged violence against protesters and threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy troops on US soil. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff – America’s top military official – stood next to Trump as he talked about deploying troops, then walked the streets of DC in his combat fatigues to survey the scene like an occupying general. The US secretary of defense told governors to “dominate the battlespace” – the “battlespace” meaning the streets of American cities.

The hypocrisy is blinding: if these events were taking place in any other country, a normal US government would express its outrage in statements and high-level phone calls and coordinate with allied countries and international organizations to pressure the offending government. From repression in the Soviet Union to the brutal suppression of protests in the Middle East during the Arab spring, the US has helped lead principled international responses to countries that violently oppress their citizens.

As Rev. Al Sharpton said during the George Floyd memorial: “Just like in one era we had to fight slavery, another era Jim Crow, another era we dealt with voting rights, this is the era to deal with policing and criminal justice…[we] need to go back to Washington and stand up: Black, white, Latino, Arab, in the shadows of Lincoln, and tell them: This is the time to stop this