George Floyd: A Mockingbird (by Kitch Mensah Bonsu)

by Kitch Mensah Bonsu

George Floyd and Officer Derek Chauvin both worked for the Minneapolis Latin nightclub and both were in charge of keeping unruly customers under control but they never knew their paths would cross outside the club and their engagement as police and civilian would result in a disaster in America. In their encounter, Officer Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck while his captive choked repeatedly that he could not breathe. This would have qualified for standard police brutality which occurs in the field every day and this incident would have ordinarily not qualified as a disaster. However, the death of Mr. Floyd at the hands of his colleague night club worker has moved from a social problem of racism, police brutality and racial injustice into a sociological problem of racial murder which has impacted the whole world.

As a young scholar, I read a book by Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) which was about a black man who was accused of raping a white woman. Harper Lee tells the story of the defense lawyer for the black man Atticus Finch whose family and friends were threatened for defending a black person (Tom Robinson). The story gives a vivid description of race relations in 20th century in America. In the ensuing testimony in court, the white woman accused the black man of holding her down with his right hand and raping her which turned out to be untrue because his right hand had been damaged through forced labor. Upon the face of such injustice, the writer used the term ‘mockingbird’. A mockingbird, why kill a mockingbird? A bird that only sings, a bird that only sings melody, a bird that preys on nobody yet justice was willing to be sacrificed for racial reasons. A poor bird that poses no danger to anybody in society. This is what has happened to George Floyd; a man who posed no danger to society has been sacrificed on the altar of racism and is very shocking we are still killing mockingbirds in America in the 21st century.

George Floyd, a mockingbird at the time of his death as he was singing that he could not breathe, yet the police failed to heed to his suffocation, why kill a mockingbird? Is it hatred, racism or just prejudice?  Many laws have been passed in the United States against racial discrimination yet the evil of its reincarnation in social relations and structures seem untenable and society keeps dancing around it for centuries and centuries. If Racism was a comedian, men of power would be afraid to laugh but will keep dancing around it. Sometimes being a pessimist is all to it because that is just the way it is, things will never be the same. Now it is as if the whole world had been awakened to the racist abuse of people of minority which is not a new phenomenon.

This incident has drawn the world’s attention to the fact that there are still marks of vulnerability in our social relations and social structure that need mending and changes. Just the social actions of a few police officers have led America to the brink of interracial confrontation, a racial war. The violent protest has shown how vulnerable society is in relation to social action as causation factor in disaster. Who could have imagined that people could just break laws, go on rampaging, use deadly weapons in the broad day light for violent protest in the most powerful country in the world? As an academic community, we must be mindful of our social actions as it has the propensity to destroy so much. Let us learn to live in peace and diversity.

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