The heartless murder of George Floyd, an African-American, by white police officers in Minnesota, US, has once again revealed the dark side of our human nature. Watching the videos of what transpired in that incident, it is absolutely callous.
Police officer Derek Chauvin was captured pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd repeatedly cried out, “I can’t breathe.” What makes the incident even more inhuman is that all this time, officer Derek was completely relaxed, with his hands in his pockets. Two other officers also had their knees on Floyd, whom they had already handcuffed and was lying face down on the tarmac.
Meanwhile, the fourth officer stood by and watched nonchalantly, also with his hands in his pockets, as his colleagues literally squeezed life out of Floyd. The poor man eventually succumbed.
While on the face of it this could be categorised among the increasing global police brutality, it smacks of deep racial hatred that has dogged many nations, and especially the US, for a long time. Whereas these prejudices – racial, gender, tribal, and the like – are deeply ingrained in our human nature, when they are tolerated within a society, they give birth to what we are witnessing in the US. The casual way in which such incidents have sometimes been handled have left the culprits and their ilk believing that it is all fine and acceptable.
No wonder, in the current Floyd case, officer Chauvin was taken into custody four days after the incident, but only after a destructive public outrage and riots that saw several buildings torched. In another earlier incident on Sunday, February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man was pursued and shot dead by armed white residents of a coastal South Georgia neighbourhood. But several months later, no arrests had been made. It was not until yet another public outcry by various groups that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation recently moved “swiftly” to arrest the culprits – a father and son.
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It is unfortunate but, in spite of its highly touted democratic ideals, the American society has engendered serious prejudices – especially race, gender, and class – within its social fabric, almost mirroring the Indian caste system. While the rich educated white man is ensconced at the top of this caste system, the poor illiterate black man hangs treacherously at the bottom. The rest are left to struggle for survival in-between. Sad to say, but even the Church has found it hard to surmount this oddity. Other than for a few unique congregations, the rest of the body of Christ follows the pattern of the society. Thus, it is sadly quipped that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.
The situation is no different in our nation. We have struggled in vain to tame our ethnic prejudices and chauvinism. We look at and judge almost everything through our ethnic lenses – eager to see if “my people” are being treated fairly.
Like in America, people have been mistreated, denied opportunities, and at times murdered simply because they happen to carry the wrong name. While on the surface we pretend to be one united Republic of Kenya, deep within we are held captive by our ethnic ties. This is so easily surfaced by our politics, and especially in times of elections – which unfortunately in Kenya is all the time! Thus, the current political ruckus must of necessity be stirring dangerous ethnic tensions across the nation. Such tensions have led to serious inter-ethnic clashes in the past that have left many dead.
This notwithstanding, whether in America or in Kenya, it must be made abundantly clear that human life is sacred. No man is free to take another person’s life under any circumstances. Throughout history, every time a human being wants to kill another, he or she must first dehumanise that person in their heart or mind.
Cain had to disown Abel as his brother before he killed him. Likewise, abortionists reduce babies into mere foetuses before they cruelly cut them into pieces and flush them down the drain. In many inter-ethnic conflicts, enemy communities have been labelled as cockroaches, rats, or dogs before being annihilated.
I am almost certain that as Chauvin and his colleagues knelt on Floyd’s neck, depriving him of air, they must have dehumanised him, possibly to a mere black nigger. Their demeanour tells it all. That is why if anybody – politician or police – begins to profile or dehumanise others, then men and women of conscience must arise and tell them off. It is our sacred duty.