The infamous Novel Coronavirus usually attacks one’s respiratory system. The limbs feel heavy as the oxygen doesn’t reaches the lungs. One can’t breathe & body loses all consciousness in a span of few minutes. 2589 people died worldwide on May 25 this way but one black man, George Floyd, died with a similar modus operandi but not by the virus. He died (killed) at the hands of something quite traditional yet deadlier – George Floyd died of racism. A Minneapolis white cop put his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He screamed “I can’t breathe” and his pulse ceased. This particular death, did something quite curious.
The social media flooding throughout April & May with Italian mayors yelling social distancing and American protests demanding the Rights to haircut and reopening the economy suddenly changed to an echoing sound of Black Lives Matter (BLM). The people took to streets to decry the police brutality following the murder. These protests galvanised into a movement that now spread to more than 350 cities in nearly all the US States to the extent that National Guard troops (a component of the US army) have been deployed in at least 23 states.
When the people are supposed to be at their homes obeying lockdown & practicing social distancing to evade the virus, they came out defying the lockdown despite of all the biological threats, and that too in the epicentre of a Global pandemic, in staggering numbers to mock Corona (as coming out is the anti-thesis of social distancing) and to prove that racism is far more lethal than any pandemic. The intensity of the BLM movement significantly implies that racism cannot be run as a side business along with ‘controlling’ pandemic.
The movement is not only questioning the race privilege but also the politics of being ‘apolitical’. The slogans like “It is not enough to be “not racist”, you have to anti-racist” & “If you aren’t with us, you’re against us” lays bare the race privilege and unmasks the tactics of being apolitical and their interrelation. Also, the movement is reverberating the ‘Black Radical Tradition’ in a manner. The Black Panthers Party (a glorious movement representing ‘Black Radical Tradition’ emerged in 1966) which emerged as a response to the police occupation of Oakland, California, and Black urban communities across the country, used patroling and “copwatching” with guns as their tactics, in other words, to “police the police”, Whereas #BlackLivesMatter began in 2013 to transform into a network as a direct response to the rising protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which manifested a collective desire to demand justice for Mike Brown and for all of the Black lives sacrificed on the altar of racist police terror. In contrast, the BPP (Black Panthers Party) seeks separation from the state police whereas BLM movement seeks equality within the police judicial system. The present BLM movement saw similar attacks on police machinery as in BPP movement and thus, transcends its own objectives.
The present BLM movement is also significant in terms of its participation which includes not only Blacks, but also White as well as Brown people. It is therefore substantial to understand that this movement is not limited to Black rights’ and also cannot be isolated from the situation caused by the pandemic. Firstly, it is a response against the sustained persecution of ‘blacks’ by the ‘whites’. Secondly, it is the culmination of what the US State & COVID-19 inflicted on the Americans i.e. the loss of more than 3 crore jobs, mental trauma of not being able to keep food on the table and a hollowed out health infrastructure. Thirdly, people of America could empathise with George Floyd who was a father of two children who had lost his job as a security guard amidst a pandemic struggling to make both ends meet. He was trying to buy provisions with a counterfeit $20 bill. Almost every American citizen (both Black and White) could associate with his predicament. Fourthly, it is a response against President Trump’s onward march towards fascism. So, as a culmination of unrest against what Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ was beholding, the BLM movement provided a platform to people to vent their anger and resentment.
The movement which started as an anti-racist stir transformed into an anti-fascist movement. An amorphous anti-fascist platform called Antifa, including various militant communist and anarchist organisations has re-emerged and dominated US politics during the weeklong protests. President Donald Trump has blamed Antifa for the violence and threatened to label those associated with it as “domestic terrorists” and treat them accordingly. Though legal experts say such a move is unconstitutional as US law provides for the designation of a foreign organization as “terrorist” but it does not provide for the possibility of calling any domestic organization as “terrorist”.
During the protest in front of the White House last Friday, President Donald Trump was sent to an underground bunker by Secret Service officials. Last time it was the President George W. Bush who hid in the bunker during the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers. After 9/11, Bush sent the military to Middle East and now President Trump is threatening to invoke Insurrection act of 1807 to use military against its own people; it amounts to declaration of war against Americans. Even after subtracting the idiocy of Trump, the attitude of the US administration towards ongoing protests shows the intensity and importance of the movement.
The Governments worldwide were operating on a Moral high ground of ‘saving’ their people from COVID-19 by disallowing big gatherings and using Social Distancing as ‘weapon’ to camouflage injustice and to speed up their anti-people policies; be it India, China, Hungary or USA. The BLM Movement has smashed any such moral high ground into a million pieces and reveals the primacy of the intra-human contradiction over biological crisis for people. In a manner, it gave oxygen to all the systematically asphyxiated people, their struggles and movements worldwide. It is evident to say that no biological crisis can halt people for too long to demand what is rightfully theirs.
The world was already burning with the fury of mass movements throughout the world before the pandemic struck. BLM is an indication of what is yet to come. An even more ferocious wave of struggles & more panic for ruling classes!
Damanpreet Singh is B.Tech. (Chemical Engineering) and MBA from Panjab University, Chandigarh and currently pursuing Masters in Political Science from IGNOU. He is involved in Student Activism for the past 6 years.