US Protests Are Not Just about Race; American ActivistMostafa Afzalzadeh
The killing of George Floyd has been looked at through different lenses, including racism and police violence. However, to reduce the aftermath that followed and the protests that quickly took America by storm to mere racial concerns is an injustice to both Floyd and protesters. More and more Americans regardless of their color are saying, "Enough is enough," believes Sekou Odinga (also known as Nathaniel Burns), an American activist who was imprisoned for 30 years (1984-2014) for being a member of the Black Liberation Army. Odinga, a former member of the Malcom X-founded Organization of Afro-American Unity, also says people should have control over the police and hold them accountable.
Q: Each year, a great number of black people are killed in the United States based on their race. Why was the case with George Floyd different?
No one seems to know exactly what was it that resonated with not just black people but people all around the world. I think it was because people literally saw him take his last breath while the police was standing on his neck. They saw his life dissipate out of his body; life force dying in his eyes. It was a perfect storm that rolled over the whole country. People just said, "No more."
Q: What do these American protesters actually want? Is it only that people are upset about how the police killed one person? Or are people looking for other answers?
It's definitely more than just a protest against this one person who was murdered in front of them. It's a combination of police brutality, the police abuse, and the lack of consequences for that brutality and abuse that has caused people to say that enough is enough. We have seen so many of them in recent years. Recently, the case with Breonna Taylor, where the police kicked the door to her house and shot her eight times.
So it's not just one person, but a combination of everything: The economy, as you said, and how instinctive this guy that's in the White House has been over the last three years, especially since the pandemic has been ravaging the country. That's why I talked about a perfect storm.
Q: How long do you think it would take for the protests to ease down? And what would the outcome be?
I don't really have a prediction. Truthfully, it has already lasted longer than I thought it was going to last. I thought maybe after five or six days, or a week, it would be dissipated, but here it is now going on for almost two weeks, and people are still in the streets.
I've seen thousands of people gather around at my neighborhood. Last night here in downtown Brooklyn, thousands of people went toward the Brooklyn Bridge.
My hope is that they will organize themselves in such a way that they can create some kind of community control over the police. The police should be controlled by the people because the people are the ones that are most affected by them. They should have control over who is hired, who is fired, how they do their policing, and what type of consequence they should face when they do wrong.
Right now, we have police investigating police and making decisions on whether the police was right or wrong. And too often, they find it justifiable to kill people.
Police should not be allowed to police in areas that they don't live. If they had to live in the area that they police, they would be more conscious of the people and would have more of a feeling of "us" instead of "them."
Q: There have been protests in the past as well, in Saint Louis, in Ferguson, and elsewhere. Why do these protests fail to bring about any real change?
The biggest problem is that these movements are not organized by a particular leadership. It's more of a wildcat movement. There are just people going on online and saying we're going to gather in certain areas, and then people just come together. They don't have programs or demands that they have sat down and got an agreement on, saying we're not going to stop until out demands are met.
Hopefully, we will come together at some point and organize ourselves to make these demands, but that means someone has to step forward and take leadership. In this country, radical leaders have been destroyed at such a high rate that a lot of people and organizations are afraid to become radical leaders.
They look back and see what happened to Black Panther Party, their leadership, even the civil rights leaders who were non-violent, like Martin Luther King. The whole COINTELPRO, the counterintelligence program that the government under the leadership of the FBI instituted in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, frightened people by destroying so many people and so many organizations.
But things are a little different this time. Large numbers of young white people are in the streets saying, "Enough is enough." So there might be a change now, because now we're talking about their own children and grandchildren. That's why we have troops out there to mow down and destroy their own children. So, hopefully, we're seeing a change.
Q: We know that there are many people in the United States that are armed, but we don't hear about people using their weapons against the police during protests. Why is that?
Seldom has there been any demonstration with live ammunition in the hands of the people. Most of the people who have got guns and that march with guns, those are the right-wing, the families of the police and their friends, their communities. These have historically been the ones that carry the guns and can get away with carrying guns and marching through the streets with guns.
When the common people, the poor people, people of color, do that, they're murdered. Going back to the time of the Panther Party and the militant black of that era that was the only time that we really saw people taking up arms to defend themselves.
There was such a backlash of right-wing killing and murder of people, especially of Panthers and their supports, that that memory is still fresh in people's minds and they're hesitant to take that level of struggle back to the streets.
The right to bear arms is something that is in the Declaration of Independence, I believe, and the Constitution. The ability to do that without serious consequences by the powers to be in this country has never been allowed against them. It's alright as long as the ones that are doing it are people who support them. If people rising up against them took up arms, then it's not alright and is met with overwhelming force.
Mostafa Afzalzadeh is a senior Journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is currently the managing Director of Parsi Policy.