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Race relations in America quite confounding to friend and foe

Friday June 05 2020
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Youth sit with placards in front of riot police officers blocking the way in Athens on June 5, 2020 during a rally against racism and police brutality and in support to the protests in US, sparked by the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis. PHOTO | LOUISA GOULIAMAKI| AFP

By MAGESHA NGWIRI

Last week, I came upon a widely circulated video of a couple of white police officers attempting to arrest a very dark gentleman sitting quietly at a side-walk café minding his own business.

In a clear case of racial profiling, the cops ignored the man of South Sudanese origin when he kept saying he was not the guy they sought.

One can only imagine what would have happened had he failed to produce his work badge. He would have been clobbered senseless, fake evidence planted on him, and later charged with resisting arrest.

This episode would have been hilarious were it not so representative of the kind of life that black people lead in America.

The rest of the world has no idea that such occurrences have been so common in the US, this one would not, ordinarily, have raised any eyebrows. But these are not ordinary times in the “Land of the Free”. It is on fire with protests, demonstrations, riots, looting and arson occurring daily in many cities since May 26, the day after an African American, George Floyd, was killed through deliberate asphyxiation.

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The way Floyd was murdered by the policeman, Derek Chauvin, assisted by his three colleagues in Minneapolis City, Minnesota, has been replayed so often that there is no point repeating it here. However, the salient facts are that Floyd was caught trying to use a counterfeit 20-dollar currency note.

During the arrest, the cop pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes – the hapless man was already in handcuffs – but though Floyd kept pleading that he could not breathe, the policeman wouldn’t let go.

It is difficult to understand such sadistic brutality. It goes beyond law enforcement and becomes an expression of intense hatred for people simply because of their skin colour.

As has been often said, to be born black in the great United States is a crime and has always been since the days of slavery.

What is difficult to comprehend is the schizophrenic nature of race relations in that country.

African Americans have through the ages produced some of the greatest athletes, actors, orators and even scholars on earth.

That is why one cannot reconcile the land inhabited by the likes of the late Martin Luther King Jr and Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Will Smith, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Rihanna, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Michael Jai White and a host of magnificent musicians too many to name here, with that lorded over by latter-day fascists, Klanists and Trumpists.

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It is no surprise then that since last week, protesting African Americans and sympathisers have poured out into the streets in numerous cities. Unfortunately such mass action is always infiltrated by vermin whose aim is to loot and destroy.

They have also given ammunition to white “nationalists” like President Donald Trump who seemed all set to wage war against fellow citizens during which protesters would be mowed down by federal troops in the hope that such macho tactics would help revive his flagging re-election prospects.

Luckily, the top military brass refused to go along with him on this one and even told him off.

We in Kenya cannot afford to pontificate on the matter, though. The iniquities of our ill-trained police officers have been well-recorded.

They may not be motivated by systemic racism as in the US, but they are no better in the way they brutalise the masses in the name of keeping law and order.

There must be something about wearing a uniform that brings out the worst instincts in people. For example, the way our police have been treating those who break curfew rules – ranging from maiming to murder – has been extremely abhorrent.

In the meantime, my unsolicited advice to my compatriot from Nyeri, Alex G. Ndiritu: Last week, you had your five minutes of fame when you posted on Facebook something about burning down the White House.

ELECTRONIC DEVICE

The post may have been a prank, but it went viral and shook things up in a way you couldn’t have imagined.

You really don’t want American Intelligence coming after you through their paid lackeys in this country; they can be vicious and they don’t need a reason to make the rest of your life hell. Trust me, they will invent the reasons as they go along.

They will bug your house, plant CCTV devices in your bedroom, bathroom and compound, hack your phone and any other electronic device you use and seek to destroy your reputation in every way.

They will go after your family by systematically “alienating the affection” of your loved ones and order clueless, unreconstructed sociopaths to dog your every move 24/7 with complete impunity. They will also monitor your movements using GPS technology, and if you drive, they will mount tracking devices for the same purpose.

So, my brother, if there is a way you can make amends, do so before it is too late. Be warned. This is not fiction.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor. [email protected]

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