The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, Trinidad and Tobago (CAFRA TT) joins the world community in condemning the racist murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” a plea for his life, as he was asphyxiated by a white policeman’s knee on his neck while handcuffed, held down and watched by three other police officers, reverberate deeply with all who have witnessed the killing caught on video. That the onlooking police officers shielded the perpetrator from bystanders calling on him to remove his knee from Mr Floyd’s neck, speaks to deeply entrenched racism in the police force.
George Floyd’s murder is the latest in a long history of violence perpetrated by the State and others against African Americans, Native Americans and people of colour in the US. Among these, we must mention the murders of young African American women such as Yvonne Smallwood, Aiyana Jones, Sandra Bland, and most recently Breonna Taylor in her own home in March 2020.
We recognize that the current protests in cities across the USA and elsewhere represent national and global movements to end police brutality and other forms of institutionalized racism. The spotlight on “Black Lives Matter” reflects a collective response to the chronic oppression and discrimination faced by African Americans who have been treated as second-class citizens in a country they helped to build.
We are conscious that this movement is also taking place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic in which African Americans and other ethnic minorities comprise over 70 per cent of the 100,000 plus Americans who have died from the virus due to systemic inequalities in social determinants of health such as housing, poverty, unemployment, working conditions, education and access to health care. Yet, despite poor wages and working conditions, many African Americans (including women and men of Caribbean backgrounds) and other ethnic minorities work in frontline essential services, protecting and serving the nation while placing themselves at risk. Thus, the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19 are linked, with racism undermining public health efforts.
In Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, we have our own history of racism, evidenced by the almost complete decimation of the Indigenous peoples, African enslavement, Indian indentureship, and other forms of forced migration and economic servitude. This legacy is characterized by ‘internalized racism,’ where people who have been racially subordinated perpetuate oppressive beliefs, attitudes and behaviours within and among their own ethnic groups, for example, Africans and Indians in the contemporary Caribbean. It also includes ‘implicit bias,’ where we privilege those with attributes of the European colonizers (e.g., skin colour, language, education, and so on), and mistreat those at the other end of the social spectrum (e.g., poor, uneducated African- and Indian-Caribbean people). We urge the need for: frank discussions on the persisting legacy of ethnic discrimination and internalized racism in our societies, often accompanied by economic marginalization; as well as programmes to promote the respect for diversity and social justice, and ensure equal treatment for all.
This is also a pivotal moment for Caribbean governments, police services and communities to reflect critically on the numbers of extra-judicial killings of primarily African-Caribbean young men from low-income, marginalized communities. The recently released report, “Survey of Individuals Deprived of Liberty: Caribbean (2016–2019), Trinidad and Tobago Country Report” clearly shows the inter-generational patterns of poverty, familial and community problems experienced by the predominantly male population incarcerated in prison. We call on the criminal justice system to prevent and address police abuse through state-of-the-art police training and oversight, informed by socio-economic and psychological insights.
We stand in solidarity with the family, friends and community of George Floyd, and all who have risen in righteous indignation at this inhumane act. The people of the USA must confront their history and dismantle institutionalized racism in the police services and all its forms. All women and men are equal and must enjoy their fundamental rights equally.