Apr 22, 2021 Letters
Guyanese and other immigrant Americans I have spoken with unanimously endorse the guilty verdict against White police officer, Derek Chauvin, in the death of a Black man, George Floyd, in Minnesota. It is a rare instance of a White police officer being found guilty of murdering a person who is a non-White. It is also seen as a guilty verdict of systemic racism in America against people of colour and recent immigrants, who are not accepted as belonging in the country even though America has been built by immigrant communities going back five hundred years.
America has had a history of racism since its founding. The Floyd’s murder has galvanised people of all ethnicities and nationalities demanding that they be treated equitably and fairly regardless of background. People of all ethnicities went into the streets in cities across the country, including Guyanese in Richmond Hill, during a pandemic to demand justice. Guyanese Americans, like others, feel an urgent need for policing and criminal justice reform as well as legislation against racist attacks. Asian and Indian Americans have been victims of racist attacks (perpetrated by Whites and minorities including by Black Americans) of late.
There were all kinds of reactions from Guyanese and other Americans expressing relief that justice has been delivered and rather quickly in less than a year in Floyd’s murder. Some describe the guilty verdict as a champion of humanity over inhumanity, light over darkness, justice over injustice – messages echoed in Hindu scriptures and festivals like Diwali and Phagwah. Guyanese hope that the verdict will root out the brutality and prejudice faced daily by people of colour in their dealings with police.
Floyd died of suffocation when his neck was pressed beneath the knee of police officer, Derek Chauvin, for some nine minutes in a shopping mall parking lot in Minnesota in May 2020. Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit bill at a store. Police was called. He was held. Video recording showed he was prostrate on the ground with handcuffs rendering him utterly harmless. Chauvin and three other cops used disproportionate force. Chauvin’s knee prevented him from breathing.
Almost every Guyanese or immigrant I spoke with about the case during the trial was expecting a conviction based on the available evidence. In fact, since the death almost a year ago, people had long made up their mind that the cop was guilty of murder. Also, almost all of America, including the President of the US and Governor of Minnesota State, was expecting and agreed with the verdict. The Floyd’s family settled a civil suit with the city of Minneapolis for $27 million last month.
In a sort of way, Guyanese and immigrant Americans see the verdict as justice for minorities who have been subjected to various kinds of injustices at the hands of racists. Minorities have been living in fear in certain sections of America. They dare not venture in certain parts where they may be attacked by ‘rednecks.’ Even President, Joe Biden, acknowledged the persistence of racism in America when he committed to working for greater racial justice across the country. Biden chimed that he was “so relieved” about the guilty verdict, and he has pledged “to press forward with a broader racial justice agenda.” Vice President, Kamala Harris, also committed to “make something good come out of this tragedy (of the murder of Floyd.” One of George Floyd’s younger brothers has echoed the sentiments about racism.
Similar responses poured in from prominent figures such as former president Barack Obama and civil rights activists. Obama said the murder and the guilty verdict are evidence that we must “come to terms with the prevalence of racism in its various systems, from policing to the economy. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system.”
Those connected with the Floyd movement hope to carry forward their agenda of reforming policing and eradicating systemic racism. It is hoped that with the verdict, there would be passage of federal legislation aimed at reducing police brutality and racism across America. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has passed the House but remains stalled in the Senate.
Guyanese and others agree that there must be full accountability for police misconduct. The country needs a full measure of justice not only of police but of anyone involved in criminal activities that rob, steal, and engage in violence. While praising the verdict, Guyanese and others also condemned the riots and violence that followed Floyd’s murder last year May. Minorities suffered the most from the looting violence with their businesses destroyed unable to recover from the losses. Many businesses owned by minorities have remained permanently closed. They must also get justice with compensation and punishment of the guilty.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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