“They committed a modern day lynching in broad daylight . . . I can’t stand for that!”
The words of Philonise Floyd, the brother of recently murdered George Floyd, ring in your ears. His choice of words hits you like a punch in the gut. The chain of events leading to the death of his brother cannot be described more succinctly than this – it was a lynching.
The US - and indeed the world - saw George Floyd horrifically killed by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin on 25 May, making George yet another victim of the blight that is the racially motivated killings of black people by police in the USA. As the video of Floyd dying has been passed around the ether enough times in the past few days, I won’t get into details, but suffice to say watching the several minutes long video is absolutely heart-breaking. There is no humanity there - only callous brutality.
Recent years has seen a great number of black people shot to death by police in the US - 1 252 since 1 January 2015, according to The Washington Post’s database on tracking police shootings.
The instant global connections facilitated by the internet and social media have helped many of these killings become front-page news globally, and they have repeatedly become the source of nation-wide (and in some cases global) protests and riots. While the racist discrimination of and violence against black people in the US spans over several centuries, in recent days there seems to be fewer nooks and crannies for these officers to hide their behaviour.
There are a million things to be said about the racism of the police brutality of the American police force, and it is an enormously important discussion to have. Recent research estimates that black men in the US are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police; this alone is undeniably atrocious. However, as the world is watching and so many people globally are expressing their anger, frustration and horror over these recent events, let us not forget that these issues extend far beyond US borders, far beyond the US police force.
One might argue that it’s far too simplistic pointing a finger at the US, criticizing their flawed system and the heinousness of these in no way isolated crimes, without also allowing these observations to enter our own turfs. As in many other countries, numerous journalists and politicians here in Sweden have squandered the ample opportunities provided by this situation to shine a light on the structural racism inherent in Swedish society. It has been disproportionally disfavouring afro-swedes (alongside other people of colour) for decades, if not centuries. Not talking about this right now seems either ignorant or hypocritical, because even though Sweden often prides itself on being such a safe, progressive, inclusive country, public displays of racism and violence against black people are common. The surge of populist and racist parties taking place over the past decade all over Europe (Sweden included) has normalized such incidents to a frightening degree. Sure, we have come far in certain areas, but the fact is that police and security guards all over this country harass and discriminate upon black people on a regular basis.
One example of this is how black people are disproportionally targeted by security guards here. Only last year we saw a 12-year-old afro-Swedish boy being wrested to the ground in a mall by security, unprovoked. A 34-year-old black woman who had called the police to stop a fight was violently removed from the scene by a security guard. But perhaps most horrifying, a heavily pregnant black woman was brutally manhandled off a subway train and pushed down on the platform belly-first just because she could not procure her bus card quickly enough, all while her five-year-old daughter who the guards left on the train screamed in fear. Oh, and by the way, the reason why she could not find her card (and why she was on the subway at all) was that she was experiencing contractions and was in severe pain, so she was trying to get to a hospital. She was hospitalised as a result of the incident, but the security guards responsible received no reprimands beyond being taken out of service shortly.
These are only three out of countless similar incidents in recent years, very few of which lead to any substantial consequences for the guards. It seems both the companies who hire them as well as the police who investigate them choose to turn a blind eye to their behaviour, as long as it concerns black people. In addition, seeing as the Swedish police investigate themselves, extremely few of the cases made against the police force on counts of battery ever lead to convictions, let alone seemingly racially motivated ones.
There is, of course, no easy solution to ending systemic racism. There is no excuse for the all-too-common violence perpetuated against black people, no matter where in the world it takes place - Sweden, the US, China, anywhere. It is way past due that we see an end to these atrocities, but this does not seem to be happening anytime soon without a fight. And we all have to join. We owe it to ourselves, to our black siblings, to the future to take on this
Let’s not allow the lawless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner and countless others to have happened in vain. Let’s allow them to stir up the conversation on violence against black people in our own communities. Remember – as you point one finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you.
Åsa Sandlund is a teacher of history and engaged in issues of social justice globally. Among other things, she has written a bachelor thesis on Namibian women’s strategies for gender equality and liberation during the liberation struggle.