Prominent American academic and author Michael Eric Dyson says the current wave of anti-racism protests swelling across the United States, Canada and the world are unlike any others in the fight to dismantle systemic inequalities, and show the status quo is no longer an option.
Dyson was one of several guests joining The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday to discuss the powerful and historic movement over recent weeks galvanized by the death of George Floyd after a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes during an arrest.
“I think that this struck a nerve. Perhaps because we all saw him crying for his mother. Perhaps we all saw he was defenceless, begging for his life. Perhaps it snapped something in us because we have seen it before with Eric Garner in New York City a few years ago … and now again,” he said.
“It’s being picked up all over the world precisely because at this particular moment there has been a determination among masses of people in this country that this must end now. There is no next time. We’ve got to fix it and we’ve got to address it right now.”
Video of Floyd’s arrest in Minneapolis two weeks ago showed him pleading with the officers arresting him and saying that he could not breathe. Still, none of the officers intervened to stop the other with his knee pressed into the back of Floyd’s neck until after he went unconscious.
The video showed Floyd was not resisting arrest.
All four officers involved in his death have since been fired.
Three are charged with aiding and abetting while the fourth officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Minnesota officials agreed on Friday to ban the use of chokeholds by police and to make it a requirement for officers to report and intervene any time they see another officer using unauthorized force.
While there have been some riots, the vast majority of the solidarity and anti-racism protests responding to Floyd’s death have been peaceful. Despite that, many police in the United States have responded with brutal force against not just rioters but peaceful protesters and journalists as well.
But the protests around the world have focused national conversations around the need to dismantle systemic racism within government and public institutions.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly weighed in on the crackdowns by police in the United States, saying he feels “horror” and “consternation” at what is happening south of the border.
He’s said each time though, that Canadians should not feel smug because the country has its own issues with systemic racism against Black Canadians, Indigenous Canadians and other minorities.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told Stephenson that simply calling out racism is not enough.
He said he wants to see specific changes from the federal government
“Changing those mandatory minimums to give discretion back to judges, ensuring that the discretion includes assessing the systemic racism that exists and ensuring there’s less incarceration but more rehabilitative options,” Singh said when asked for examples.
“There’s a host of real concrete changes that can be brought at the criminal justice level, at the federal level because that is what governs all the sentencing provisions and all the incarceration-type of laws.”
Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said if the federal government wants to show it’s serious about combatting racism in Canada, it should come up with the promised national action plan on how to prevent violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The government had promised that plan would be in place in June 2020 following the presentation of the findings of the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls last year.
That hasn’t happened though, with the government saying the pandemic means things are on hold.
“I’m sorry but I have to say that’s a very lame excuse. It holds no water in my mind. There [were] nine, full good months that they could’ve been working on it,” Whitman said.
Whitman added Indigenous Canadians are watching what’s happening south of the border and understand the anger and pain so many Black and non-white Americans are feeling.
“The Indigenous women, we’re all watching and we’re interested in what’s happening in the States and where my heart goes is for the parents,” she said.
“They’re saying, is my daughter going to be coming home, or my son? Are they going to be picked up by the police? Are they going to be hurt by the police?”
U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened to deploy the military against protesters, though he walked that back slightly in recent days following widespread opposition from military officials.
Trudeau has not specifically condemned Trump for his racist and inflammatory rhetoric towards the protesters, including a threat Trump made last week that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
He did pause for 21 seconds last week though, when asked what he thought of Trump’s behaviour.
Dyson said he thinks that conveyed a lot, but there comes a time when signals simply aren’t enough.
“He let us know what he believed and I think that it is important to signify in that way,” he said.
“At some point, Mr. Trudeau will have to find the backbone and wherewithal to finally say, ‘I’ve got to cut ties with a man who’s been so destructive.’ — he’s got to think about the relationship between America and Canada, he’s got to think about the vindictiveness of this American president — but at the end of the day, you’ve got to find your ability to stand strong.”
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