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  • Tom Bromwich

How a fake $20 bill woke up America

We now know what a counterfeit $20 bill gets you, and it sure as hell isn’t justice.

Such was the case of George Floyd who was alleged to have purchased cigarettes from a shop with a forged $20 bill. Minutes after returning from the shop, Floyd, assumed by staff to be intoxicated, was the target of two police officers, one of them Thomas Lane. Pulling a gun on Floyd, Lane hauls him to the wall of an adjacent restaurant. Currently, officers are responding to a ‘drunk and disorderly’ situation in which Floyd is described as “not in control of himself”. After subsequently being escorted to Lane’s police car, Floyd stumbles and falls. At this moment officers Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao arrive. The car door opens and Floyd is pushed into the back seat. However, Chauvin and Tao, for no discernible reason, pull Floyd out the other side of the car and throw him to the ground.

It is important to know that both these officers have a combined total of 23 police custody complaints; the former with a record of fatal shootings. At this point, the three officers Lane, Chauvin, and Kueng, proceed to put Floyd in a ‘conscious neck restraint’, kneeling on his legs, torso, and neck. Such practice is illegal under Minnesota State Police Regulation 5(311), and is reserved for violent suspects, actively resisting arrest.

Then we hear “I can’t breathe”. 16 times. Floyd explicitly identifies the knee on his neck as the cause of his breathing difficulty. Whilst being harassed by Lane and Chauvin to “get up and get in the car”, Floyd falls unconscious to the horror of onlookers, who, when highlighting this, were threatened by Chauvin with CN tear gas. Kueng calls for ‘level 3’ medical assistance realising the severity of the matter, whilst Chauvin keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for a further seven minutes. Paramedics arrive, assess Floyd to be unconscious, yet the knee remains. Floyd was pulled up into an ambulance and suffered a cardiac arrest minutes later.

I watched a lot of videos writing this article, all were numbing. They made me realise that I had not educated myself nearly sufficiently to understand how much of a stain racism has on American policing and authority. Watching Ahmaud Arbery shot three times by a vigilante group pursuing him in trucks shouting racial expletives reminds me of the authority the Ku Klux Klan assumed. It also highlights that America remains a country still entrenched with the original sin of slavery and attitudes towards non-white citizens. There is a denial by white Americans that race relations are as bad as they really are: 56% agree that relations are poor, compared to over 70% of blacks, and only 37% of whites believe blacks have been given “sufficient” rights with white citizens. There arises a problem, that some white Americans have become so accustomed to believing that they are under attack by cultural marginalisation. For example, according to a Quinnipiac poll in March 2016, 91% of Trump’s supporters say that their ‘culture’ has been under attack. 80% accuse the government of being too solicitous towards ‘inner city blacks’. I highlight that over 90% of Trump’s voter base in 2016 were white.

I could say that it would be wrong to politicise such delicate circumstances, but this is inherently political. The presence of a President whose voter base is fuelled by such either underlying or overt racial resentment and a distorted belief that ‘whites are now the minority’ has exacerbated tensions. Trump’s base comprises race-baiting, gun-addled, bitter Americans who mock liberal ‘snowflakes’. But as soon as Arbery is gunned down, or Joseph Mann is shot to death, or Deborah Danner is murdered by a policeman in her own home, they will be the exact ones retweeting Trump’s pathetic tweets, #whitelivesmatter-ing, and secluding themselves to their echo chambers of self-obsessed, smug ‘conservative’ commentators including Turning Point USA, and Donald Trump Jr, whose content centres around ‘triggering’ liberals: in their view, if you’re not an unquestioning Trump supporter, then you’re a communist liberal Obama-lover.

Such is the state of US politics that the deaths of unarmed black citizens turn into a screaming match between who can ‘trigger’, and who can virtue signal the quickest. I am a cynic when it comes to social media protests. I have debated posting various stories, or hashtags, and I eventually did not. My reasoning behind this is because I saw people posting these things who I know have made racially derogatory comments. Moreover, I believe that many people have posted these things to feel self-assured that they are good people, or that they saw the others post this and thought it to be fashionable. The ultimate form of trivialising these fragile situations was the unwisely named ‘break the chain’ challenge. I cringed every time this was posted as it reduced the death of George Floyd and countless other victims to a social media challenge akin to previous chains starting with the caption: ‘If I didn’t tag you please don’t be offended’.

Honestly, for me to post this does nowhere near the justice needed to remedy the terrible inequality facing black people across the Western world. It reduces their suffering to screenshotting a story, posting it to my account without absorbing its message, and then relaxing, knowing that I am a good person for posting it. As I earlier said, white people need education beyond the confines of Instagram. Colonialism is not nearly sufficiently addressed in the school curriculum, nor is the criminal justice system and the barriers facing black citizens. And this is why Trump supporters just don’t get it: they have had their prejudices entrenched and confirmed by a man and an echo chamber that peddles racial resentment. Children however are malleable: They are taught to either value every other human equally, or to continue the resentment. The key to stamping out the scourge of racism is to start from the bottom and work up by engaging with hard truths. Only then can the victims who have lost so much be credited with the victory their murders paved the way for.

Image: Walid Hamadeh on Unsplash

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