George Floyd died in circumstances that are horrifyingly familiar. On Monday he was was arrested quietly, after a call was made alleging that he cashed a bad cheque. Phone footage taken moments later shows a police officer’s knee pinning Floyd’s neck to the ground. The last nine minutes of George Floyd’s life were spent in excruciating pain, pleading for his life. ”I can not breathe,” “Don’t kill me”.” Bystanders begged the officers to relent as they witnessed what was tantamount to a summary public execution.
Twelve hours earlier in Central Park, an avid birdwatcher politely asked a white woman to leash her dog. The woman immediately called 911 on the birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, who is black, threatening him: "I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life."
When that footage went viral, showing a white woman invoking the threat of racist police violence to settle a personal dispute, many speculated that she was a Trump supporter. But there’s no evidence of that. It’s not only Trump supporters who are racists, and who can reflexively invoke the oppressive institutions of American capitalism to discipline and threaten black people on a whim.
Incidents like these refute the myth that the US is a “post-racial” society. Every institution that defends American capitalism, from the police force to the Democratic party, has an interest in perpetuating oppression. The police murder of unarmed black people is one expression of the systematic racism that permeates every level of the American state. While an unarmed black person is murdered by the police roughly every day, . Systematic racism takes the form of killings by the police, but also higher levels of unemployment, poverty, infant mortality rates, lower access to health care and housing, and mass incarceration. While the civil rights and black liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s made important gains, facing down violent repression to win voting rights and desegregation, racism remains in the DNA of American capitalism.
The outpouring of solidarity in the wake of George Floyd’s murder prompted many hypocritical statements of empathy from politicians. Joe Biden said that Floyd’s death was “part of an ingrained systemic cycle of injustice that still exists in this country". Biden would know: he helped write the 1994 crime bill that has led to black people being incarcerated at five times the rate of whites.
The real attitude of defenders of the status quo has been revealed by their response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement, demanding an end to police murder, began after the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson in 2014. In the years since, BLM protests have been attacked on all fronts. They have faced militarised police departments, tear gas and rubber bullets. Democrats and Republicans alike have resisted their demands. They have been smeared and denounced by the media, both liberal and conservative. Six activists tied to the initial uprising in Ferguson have been found dead in mysterious circumstances.
Despite these attempts to silence the movement, George Floyd’s murder has sparked further resistance. Minneapolis has seen two straight days of protest and rioting. While the media has painted the riots as an irrational outburst of violence, they are really a targeted protest against symbols of state repression. Hundreds have laid siege to the Police Department building which was the former workplace of the four murdering cops. Demands for them to be brought to justice are circulating, and protests are currently spreading to other cities. Anyone who wants to see an end to the murderous racism of the American state should support the resistance of the oppressed.