George Floyd killing triggers wave of activism around the world

Protests have spread to UK, France, Israel, Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa

His face is on murals in Belfast, on a shard of the Berlin Wall and on a blown-out building in Idlib. “I can’t breathe,” some of the last words George Floyd uttered as he was killed, are painted across a wall in Montreal. A slaver’s statue in Bristol has been uprooted. Statues of a colonial king have been burned and defaced across Belgium. In the Netherlands, the prime minister says a blackface Christmas ritual must end.

Floyd’s death in Minneapolis more than a fortnight ago has been the trigger for a wave of activism that has spread to more than 50 countries. The nine-minute video of his killing by police has become a mirror for racism and inequality in societies around the world.

Activists in the UK have protested against state violence against African Americans, but also the unequal treatment of black Britons and the understudied violence of the British empire. Tens of thousands have marched in London and other cities including Bristol, where demonstrators on Sunday toppled Edward Colston’s statue, prompting a national debate on public monuments to figures associated with colonialism and the slave trade.

Protesters in cities across France have drawn parallels between Floyd’s killing and that of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man who died in police custody in 2016. An autopsy found Traoré’s cause of death was asphyxiation. On Monday, France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, announced that a controversial choke-hold method of arrest authorised for police use would be abandoned.

Demonstrations have been held in Berlin, Madrid, and in Rome where among signs reading “No justice, no peace” and “Defund the police” were some calling for greater rights for Italy’s immigrant population.

Calls in Belgium to strip street signs and public squares of the name and likenesses of King Leopold II, a monarch accused of colonial atrocities in the Congo that were extreme even by European standards, have gathered new momentum. Leopold’s statues have been burned in Antwerp, hooded and painted red in Ghent and tagged with “assassin” in Brussels.

Israelis of African origin have used the moment to highlight the disproportionate rate at which they are arrested and incidents such as the killing of Solomon Teka, an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager shot by an off-duty police officer in June last year. Hundreds of protesters in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa have compared Floyd to Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism who was shot dead by Israeli police on 30 May after failing to stop at a checkpoint. In Bethlehem, demonstrators chanted “Black lives matter, Palestinian lives matter.”

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Australian cities such as Melbourne and Sydney. Indigenous Australian adults are 15 times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to be incarcerated, and 434 Indigenous people have died in custody since 1991.

In Jakarta, people protested against prejudices in Indonesian society, including a popular preference for lighter skin and ongoing state violence against people from the province of Papua.

Activists in Bangkok scrawled “I can’t breathe” over pictures of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, an activist who fled to Cambodia after Thailand’s 2014 military coup and who was abducted by unknown gunmen last week in Phnom Penh. At least eight Thai activists in exile have disappeared in recent years, two of them found dead.

There was a candlelit vigil in the Iranian city of Mashaad, and protests against police brutality in Istanbul in which some carried pictures of Floyd and 29 people were detained.

In Nairobi, a protester among a crowd of about 200 on Monday shouted: “The police have killed us more than corona.” At least 15 people have been killed by the police in Kenya since a lockdown against the pandemic was imposed, according to a police oversight body.

“The poor people of Mathare [a slum area of Nairobi] stand in solidarity with the poor people of America, the black people of America. We want them to know that this struggle is one,” another protester, Juliet Wanjira told the Guardian.

In Nigeria, protesters demonstrated against Floyd’s death and killings in their country, including that of Tina Ezekwe, a teenager allegedly shot by two police officers in Lagos last month.


Michael Safi

The GuardianTramp

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