George Floyd protests after 400 years of oppression – Black Lives Matter leader

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An activist from Black Lives Matter says riots across the United States following the death of George Floyd are an “uprising” born out of 400 years of oppression – and white Americans would not stay quiet if it was happening to them.

In today’s speech from the White House Rose Garden US President Donald Trump warned that if individual states did not mobilise all civilian and military resources to crack down on the protesters he would do it for them.

Black Lives Matter’s Greater New York chapter chair Hawk Newsome said the protesters had reached their tipping point.

“Black people here are angry, and they’re upset. Not just the killing of George Floyd, but for 400 years of oppression.

“Let’s be clear, this wasn’t [just] an act last week. This is a complex compilation of so much poverty, so much pain, so much injustice.

“People have reached their tipping point. And what do people do when they don’t have a voice? They riot. If this were white Americans that this were happening to, they would never sit down, they would never march peacefully.”

Newsome said that like the buildings torched during the protests, the futures of black Americans had been ‘going up in smoke’ endlessly.

“The Bronx has a 40 percent high school dropout rate, and if those kids are lucky enough to make it to college, 90 percent of them drop out. Our hopes and dreams diminish every day, but nobody cares when it’s just black people.

“Nobody cares until it affects them, and that’s what these riots are doing because for the first time I’ve ever seen … they’re going into white communities and burning down buildings. … in Minnesota they built burned down a [police] precinct. This is an uprising.

“You know, some people say it’s violent, but I don’t see people killing police officers. They say it’s race-based violence, but half of the people who’re out there are white.”

At today’s Rose Garden media conference Trump said “all Americans are sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd. My administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served. He will not have died in vain.”

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Newsome said it was certainly the right thing to say politically.

“He might have a shred of decency … he may have seen this happen, and wanted change… however, last year on July 17, Black Lives Matter of Greater New York took a bus to the Department of Justice, and said ‘tomorrow the statute of limitations will expire for the Department of Justice – Donald Trump’s Department of Justice – to prosecute the cop that killed Eric Garner. They refused to prosecute that cop, and that was the first ‘I can’t breathe’ case.”

A person holds up a sign as protesters kneel on Canal St during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

A person holds up a sign as protesters kneel on Canal St during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. Photo: AFP

Newsome said other cases where men of colour had died after pleading to be able to breathe included Bronx man Andrew Kearse who died in 2017, and David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who died in Australia after yelling ‘I can’t breathe’ from a prison cell, while he was being restrained.

“The problem is I don’t believe in words, I believe in action, and … action compelled me to believe that they do not care about black people in America, and in many cases abroad,” Newsome says.

Newsome said Trump’s threat to send “heavily armed” military and law enforcement felt like nothing new.

“To be perfectly honest people already felt like they’re risking death every day,” Newsome said.

“All it takes is one gun and one bullet to end a black life, and we see this way too often, when a police officer shoots an unarmed black person.

“So for him to make this threat – this is what we face every day as black people in America.”

“We are threatened every day. Policing in this country was a pandemic before the Covid pandemic.

“You’re telling us we can be ‘found guilty’, no crime whatsoever. And we can come in contact with the police officer, and he can be judge, jury and executioner, and you won’t do anything about it? In the past five years we’ve been marching – it’s been Black Lives Matter.

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“It’s a slap in the face that a police officer still feels that he can get away with this type of behaviour, and the government has done nothing to change it.”

Newsome called for a bill that Black Lives Matter New York proposed, called the I Can’t Breathe Act, was an immediate need.

“If a police officer hears someone say ‘I can’t breathe”, or witnesses someone in medical distress, and they do not render assistance to said person, and that person suffers an injury, then that police officer will face a Class A felony. If that person died, then the officer will be charged with murder.”

He said the charge that the officer involved in George Floyd’s death – murder in the third degree – was a “cupcake charge”.

“A lot of people don’t notice about me but I have a legal education, I went to law school before becoming a full time activist, and the murder three charge is not serious whatsoever. If prosecuted I’d wager that this officer might face 10 to 12 years in jail.”

“Right now they need to prosecute the other officers involved in the death of George Floyd”.

A row of police officers face off with demonstrators outside the White House to protest the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody.

A row of police officers face off with demonstrators outside the White House to protest the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody. Photo: AFP

Newsome said the sentencing of off-duty white Dallas police officer Amber Guyger last year gave an indication of what he believes is biased leniency of the courts, which could also apply for Floyd’s killer Derek Chauvin.

Guyger was sentenced to 10 years for shooting and killing her black neighbour Botham Jean in his own apartment, after thinking it was her own home.

Newsome said bystanders in the US should be vigilent about police actions in their communities.

“I know that the police are the police, and you’re taught that the police are heroes – you’re taught that the police are here to respect and to protect you. But what the police in America have shown us is that they are your enemy, and that they will kill you,” he says.

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“So, if you see someone being murdered by the police you should intervene because the politicians won’t protect you, and other politicians won’t protect this person, and the other police won’t protect that person. So you have to take it upon yourself and risk your life to save your brother or your sister’s life – we cannot stand back and watch our people be murdered anymore.”

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