The sickening video showing the distant, frosty and unyielding look on the face of white Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin as he snuffed the life out of a helpless fellow human being, a black man, will doubtless haunt many people for a long time.
That detached look on Chauvin’s face, ignoring the desperate imploring by his victim, George Floyd, has probably helped fuel the fury and countless protest activities in Minneapolis and other American cities, in defiance of even coronavirus fears and curfews.
Chauvin, 44, is seen with a knee pressed down on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, a man in handcuffs, until he lost consciousness. Floyd died later in hospital.
Not surprisingly, the killing has also provoked intense global outrage and solidarity demonstrations including in Accra, Abuja, Nairobi, London, Paris and Berlin – not to mention censure by world political leaders and Pope Francis.
And thanks to the security camera footage, and the bystanders who used their mobile phones to record the cold-blooded murder of the 46-yearold Floyd on May 25, 2020. Otherwise it might have been recorded as one more death of a black person “resisting arrest”. Fortunate too, that somebody circulated the video on social media.
Floyd’s repeated, pitiful pleas to Chauvin, “I can’t breathe” – and “please, please, please” – which the police officer callously ignored, have become the anthems of the mainly peaceful marches, along with ‘black lives matter’.
Floyd’s offence? He was suspected to have bought cigarettes with a counterfeit 20 dollar note. The policemen had responded to a call by a store employee.
What threat did a prostrate, handcuffed person, pose to a team of four policemen – with the other three also helping to hold Floyd down?
But even if Floyd had already been found guilty, is the penalty for that DEATH?
And this act of indescribable inhumanity happened in an American city which until now had evoked extremely pleasant memories for me, recollections of a day spent in Minneapolis in the summer of 1972, as confirmed by my diary for that year.
My one day visit to Minneapolis, in the state of Minnesota, counts as one of the unforgettable aspects of that trip to America.
Minneapolis has the distinction of being a twin-city, twinned with neighbouring Saint Paul. Thus it’s also known as Minneapolis-Saint Paul, a name I found especially captivating, or Twin Cities – Saint Paul being the state capital.
The trip to Minneapolis was one of those arranged in 1972 for a group of us from some African countries and from various professions, to get to know America. It was under the ‘African Youth Leadership Program’, courtesy of the US Government. Our schedule was organised by the ‘Operation Crossroads Africa’ agency.
Actually, my destination had been another Minnesota city, Worthington, a few hours away from Minneapolis.
Indeed, the state of Minnesota was a very happy part of my first experience of the USA. Among other things, I was thrilled to have been invited to write a guest column for a local newspaper, the Worthington Daily Globe, which was published, with my photo, in the issue of July 19, 1972. I was elated when the Editor offered me a job, “any time”.
In Worthington, I was the house guest of a black American couple. What I remember particularly about my few days with them was some tension I had sensed between the couple, although they had done their best to make my stay enjoyable. Eventually, the wife had confided in me that her husband was cheating on her. Her pain was compounded by the fact that he was having an affair with a white woman. She was very bitter about that.
It was an insight for me, a baffling dimension of race relations in America.
After leaving Worthington, together with other colleagues and our official guide, we headed for Minneapolis. As stated, our time there was a very positive experience. Apart from the sightseeing, shopping and the appeal of the name of the twin cities for me, I remember also the friendly ambience of picturesque Minneapolis.
Sadly it is certain that from now on, the name ‘Minneapolis’ will be a tainted one, recalling the unbelievable cruelty of Derek Chauvin. Unless, of course, the marches in Minneapolis and other American cities by a rainbow of people, as well as the global solidarity protests, lead to a ‘never again’ significant changes in people’s attitudes and official measures.
As President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a Facebook posting: “We hope that the unfortunate, tragic death of George Floyd will inspire a lasting change in how America confronts head on the problems of hate and racism.”
The Police Department quickly sacked Chauvin and the other three policemen. Chauvin is due in court next Monday, June 8, on a charge now said to be amended to second degree murder. But I side with those who insist that it should be first degree murder. The other policemen too have now reportedly been charged with abetment.
However, regardless of the verdict at the end of the trial, it is hoped that it’s not only police officers in America who will apply the lessons from the tragic death of George Floyd. There are fundamental lessons for police officers everywhere, including the Ghana Police.
* TRAVEL REMINISCENCES is an occasional column.