Between 2013 and 2014, I first time heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, and reading through about it helped me to realize that the African-American people still facing systemic racism even today. The shooting of black people incidents such as George Zimmerman, teen Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown by the police officers was brutal and was unacceptable that lead protests and unrest in Ferguson in New York.
Before knowing about Black Lives Matter movement, I had heard about Martin Luther King’s story during a group discussion of Theology class at college which allow me to browse about his powerful speech of ‘I have a dream’ which expressed his significant dream that one-day black people would enjoy their freedom as a dignified human being in the society and being the citizens of the world with equal rights to fulfill their potentials and that their rights are respected. In 2009, one of that dream was fulfilled as it reflected through the winning of Barrack Obama, the first elected black president in US history.
Reading the history of slavery of black people, apartheid in Africa and colonialism across the world by the westerns for which my country was also experienced one made me somehow feel connected to the pain of injustice that the African-American people had experienced. In 2008 I watched The Great Debaters, a biographical drama movie depicted three black students from Wiley College who were coached by their teacher (starred by Denzel Washington) to win in a public speaking competition against Harvard University students. Apart from the heat of competition that attracted me to watch this movie, I was also able to get to know the how African-American community had to endure lynching that limited their freedom of expression and their rights as citizens and human beings in the USA.
Watching a trailer of Frederick Douglas’s biopic movie also again brought me another cringe of the bitter truth of slavery in the USA. Other times this year I watched another African-American starred movie such as Hidden Figures, Madea, and Get Out, these three different genre movies, starring mostly African-American actors and have different stories but they present similar themes about injustice towards black people in the USA. Perceiving similar messages portrayed in these movies allowed us to understand that racism exists and it is a serious matter to look at and to learn to eliminate it by cultivating respect towards every people regardless of their skin color, race and ethnicity.
This week, I read the news about the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man who died after being knelt on the neck for almost nine minutes by Derek Chauvin, a Caucasian Minneapolis police officer in Minnesota who came to arrest Floyd for suspecting him of passing a counterfeit $20 bill in a deli. This incident reminds me of a scene in Madea movie series where Madea and his friends were stopped by an aggressive Caucasian police officer to check the driving license and treated them so harshly but fortunately, they managed to leave. Unfortunately, how heartbreaking it was that Floyd, who had lost his job as a local restaurant employee due to stay-at-home-order during the COVID19 pandemic had to left his two children at this tragic death. Despite Derek Chauvin and the other three police officers have been fired from their post and the mass protest had shown the rage for this incident to demand justice, this is again another incident where police brutality and racism could take people’s life for a lame reason. George Floyd’s death is another tragedy in how power is misused by the authority who supposed to not necessarily shot people to death when arresting them. This tragedy is truly a bitter truth of how brutal racism is and that the battle to eliminate racism is still going on in a country that was known for its spirit of freedom and human rights preaching.
I am actually living a thousand miles away from Minnesota, USA and as I saw this horrific incident, I reflected how the police institutions in my country, Timor-Leste, also had a similar issue with some of its police members misbehaved and some even cause death of innocent civilians. This reflection brought me a thought that proper training about human-rights and racism as well as anger management are important to be included for police training as they are guardians of law and order in the society and they should not the ones who exercise their mental instability towards the people during conducting their duty.
Yet most importantly, I realized that learning and understanding about racism and its impact to people’s lives in the society and the world are crucial as a first step to prevent the racism as well as learning to promote respect and tolerance towards difference among the people in the society and the world, and for this, it shall start now.