A few days after the death of an American black man who was suffocated under the knee of a white police officer, the United States is under fire again and is protesting against police violence of a racist nature. A recurring phenomenon that is inseparable from the violence in American society and more published during the election period, according to political scientist Didier Combeau.
“I can no longer breathe”, “I am in pain” … The video of his arrest has been on social networks – and therefore in the world – since Tuesday, May 26, reviving the issue of racist violence perpetrated by police in the States -United. After Michael Brown in Ferguson (Misfrsouri), Tamir Rice in Cleveland (Ohio), Eric Gardner in New York or even Stephon Clarke in Sacramento (California), the outrage today is centered around George Floyd’s death during his arrest by Minneapolis, Minnesota police.
Since then, demonstrations and riots have multiplied across the country. On social networks, Internet users, from the United States and elsewhere, demand “justice for George”, George Floyd, the new symbol of police violence against black Americans.
“It’s not just about racism,” analyzes Didier Combeau, a political scientist and specialist in the US, interviewed by France 24. “It’s about violence, but also about politics.”
In fact, according to the researcher, author of ‘American Polices’ (Gallimard), this new affair, like those that preceded it, is the result of several symptoms: the violence of a police force like that of the whole of American society, in the light of an individual and institutional racism “that has been stuck in the United States for a very long time”, and is exacerbated by the upcoming elections.
The issue of racism and violence “infects each other”
In the United States, where 1,000 to 1,200 people are killed each year by police, according to estimates by the US press following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, blacks account for nearly 25% of victims. “One quarter of those killed by the police are African Americans, while the proportion of African Americans in the American population is rather 13%,” notes Didier Combeau. Numerous figures, reinforced by a study published in 2019 from data collected by the consortium of journalists Fatal Encounters and those from the National Vital Statistics System. According to this study blacks are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be killed by police in the United States, researchers estimate that one in a thousand African Americans will die while in police custody.
If Didier Combeaus emphasizes the dominance of the interracial issue, he is greatly reinforced by the violence. These two issues “infect each other”.
According to the researcher, this violence is, above all, interestingly linked to the free movement of firearms, which means that “every time a police officer acts, he risks becoming a weapon”. A constant concern for the police, said Didier Combeau, who adds that the time spent on firearms training in the training of American police officers is much more important than the time spent on training in psychology or conflict resolution.
This risk of constantly encountering a potentially armed population has led to many police outages: In 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was shot dead when he refused to release handguns, according to the victim’s family, which turned out to be a book he was holding while holding peacefully waited for his son at the bus stop. Abused by Cleveland police in 2012, Tamir Rice, 12 years old, meanwhile, was playing with a dummy gun; as for Stephon Clarke, he was killed by Sacramento Police 2018, and his phone had been mistaken for a gun.
>> Also see France 24: DEBATE – Riot in Charlotte, USA: the country sick with racial tensions
Assessment errors that often also enable the police to be released by the courts due to the call for self-defense. The four police officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd were killed on Tuesday, but were released after an investigation began. As is evident from previous cases of police violence against African Americans, police officers who committed such acts have often benefited from a case of prosecution.
As for the case of George Floyd, who died on Monday, suffocated under police knees, facts are more disturbing, notes Didier Combeau. “Compared to the much more common weapons smear, this is not an impulsive response to a threat,” he said. “In this case, it may be more difficult to invoke self-defense.”
“I want these police officers to be charged with murder because that’s exactly what they did, they committed murder against my brother,” Bridgett Floyd, the victim’s sister, told NBC.
The researcher notes similarities to the story of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 in New York after a police officer forced him to put up with a damper technique banned by New York police since 1993. After repeating several times that he could no longer breathe, the 43-year-old man lost consciousness before being taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The case led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement (“Black Lives Matters”) and condemned police violence against blacks. After several redundancies, it was not until August 2019, five years after the facts, that the police concerned were dismissed.
The subject had become very sensitive to New York Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio. Originally a candidate for the Democratic primary for the 2020 presidential election, he positioned himself as a major defender of minorities and cited his record in New York crime among his forces.
“There is a reality that African Americans are proportionately more killed by police than Whites and Hispanics, but there is also the political exploitation that is being done by it,” explains Didier Combeau. As the country prepares for the next presidential election, scheduled for November 2020, “everyone must promote their peasants,” he adds, pointing to the link between the media’s coverage of police violence cases and the political calendar.
The state scientist in particular takes the example of the riots in April 2015 in Baltimore, during Barack Obama’s second term, and a few months before the 2016 presidential election. “At the election, there was a lot of talk about police violence, but when Donald Trump was elected, and even if police violence did not stop, many headlines in the press, he continues, adding that mediators are at that time, more grasp of the #MeToo phenomenon, which in particular led to the eclipse of the issue of racist violence for some time, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
With Ahmaud Arbery’s death, a 25-year-old black jogger who was killed in February 2020 by a former police officer and his son, these two cases of racist violence appear in the headlines of the US press, “but they are not isolated cases, there are all the time in the US, “Didier Combeau adds, making a parallel with mass views.
“Why are some more interested in the national press and creating demonstrations?” Asked the specialist from the US. “Because there are organizations behind it that will present them and organize demonstrations”. The political scientist also believes that it does not really increase police violence in the short term. “Above all, there is an exacerbation of this violence, driven by people who want to exploit it at the political level because of the November 2020 elections. Social reality, it is relatively constant.”
A social reality characterized by individual racism, but also by institutional racism, which, conceptualized by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in 1967, would continue to structure the American social order despite the laws that proclaimed equality. “African Americans, despite the end of slavery, civil rights and” affirmative action “, are much poorer than the majority of the population, much less educated …”, lists Didier Combeau, to paint a portrait of a minority affected more by the common effects of misery, crime, and the “zero-tolerance policy” with zero tolerance leading a significant portion of young African Americans to prison for minor crimes.
A Trump effect?
Recently published studies by Pew Research Center where it Center for Southern Poverty has shown that a large majority of Americans believe that race relations have deteriorated since the election of Donald Trump as US President. In fact, for two-thirds of the disputed questions, it would even be easier since making racist comments in the United States.
“The most extreme ideas have a right to place,” said Didier Combeau, who adds that “restraint is less and less, especially to the right, especially racism.” According to the political scientist, who will soon be releasing a new book titled “Being American Today” (Gallimard), “there is a Trump effect in both directions. Trump, if elected, is because he has less reluctance to this kind of attitude, and the fact that he was chosen accentuates this effect “.
Is the US more racist than before? The political scientist does not think so, “but those who are racist express themselves more easily,” he emphasizes. In general, “we realize that America is struggling to make society,” says a specialist from the United States. The subject of police violence “is an extremely complicated subject”, he admits, insisting on the various problems involved, overlap, “that’s why it can’t be solved”.
Revealed by the health crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic, the cleavage in American society is only getting worse. Whatever the outcome, the upcoming presidential election may leave America even more divided than it already is.