A few weeks ago, I woke up to find my Instagram feed filled with posts about Ahmaud Arbery. He was mistaken for a burglar while jogging and shot and killed on February 23, 2020. If you are wondering how come he was mistaken for a burglar, I will dare say it’s because of the colour of his skin. Although we see more and more positive depictions of Black people all around, it still isn’t safe to be a black person on many streets around the world nowadays.
When I first heard about Ahmaud, I refused to look into it. I felt quite sad, hopeless and tired. How come this is still happening in 2020? I guess because I am lucky enough (which in itself is a weird thing to say) to have gone through life without having to experience any physical violence due to my skin tone. I sometimes forget that for some, the colour of their skin equals a shorter lifespan. Until I am tragically reminded.
When we think about black people dying massively and at random, the US is maybe the first place we think of. The right to carry makes it easier for civilians to take matters into their own hands. Ahmaud for instance was killed by other fellow citizens who decided that he represented a threat they needed deadly protection from. Unfortunately, it looks like these deaths happen more significantly by the hands of the Police, whose primary role is to serve and protect.
The racial bias existing in the US has created a distorted reality for black people. When the system sets you up for failure from the start, it is harder to get out of your circumstances. When a country’s treatment of an entire fringe of its population is dubbed the “School to prison pipeline”, you know something is wrong. People looking in from the outside, will usually only look at the end result and not at all the stones in the path that led that way. This is how bias and false assumptions persist.
Prejudice done to the black community as a whole started centuries ago and keeps bearing fruits, but this doesn’t only happen in the US. The media is filled with stories of black people being mistreated in various places around the world. France isn’t really better. French culture being what it is, you are at a lower chance of civilian shootings but police brutality or disrespect towards people of colour, unfortunately, happens there as well.
Over the past 15 years, in the US or in France many black people have lost their lives or been mistreated by the Police or their fellow citizens for no other apparent reason than the colour of their skin.
Tamir Rice was 12 when he fell under the bullets of a police officer on November 22nd, 2014. What did he do you may ask? Played with an Airsoft gun. Someone called 911 to report a young person pointing a gun at random people. Tamir was shot within moments of the police arriving on the scene, without any questions asked. One can wonder if he would have met the same fate had he been white.
On July 10th, 2015, Sandra Bland was stopped by a police car for failing to signal a lane change, she then got arrested when the exchange escalated. She was found dead in her jail cell three days later. I don’t think you will find many white people in prison for minor driving infractions.
Adama Traoré died on the day of his 24th birthday, July 19th, 2016, after a violent arrest. He was put in a prone position during his arrest, and was still allegedly alive on the drive to the police station but was pronounced dead around two hours after his arrival. Many could argue that Adama wasn’t squeaky clean, as he was known by the police services, and maybe there is truth in that but that doesn’t justify him dying the way he did.
On May 29th, 2006, Komotine Coulibaly, mother of 6, living in the suburbs of Paris, was gazed at in her own apartment, violently dragged out of it and put in jail for the weekend. Her crime? Being at work every time the police came looking for her son, considered as a person of interest in an attempted breaking and entering case. Thankfully she did not die but was denied the most common decency and respect in this whole situation.
Lamine Dieng died in Paris during his arrest on June 17th, 2007. Police were called because a man had violently assaulted his partner. Upon arrival they found Lamine Dieng lying on the street under the influence of drugs. While proceeding to arrest him five police officers kept him on the ground face forward, before handcuffing him in the back and strapping his feet. On the way to the police station, he was kept in a prone position for thirty minutes, face against the ground while 4 police officers were weighing on him. He was pronounced dead at the police station shortly after arriving.
Eric Garner died almost in the same fashion as Lamine Dieng. On July 17th, 2014, police accused him of selling cigarettes and tried to arrest him, he refuted the claim and attempted to resist the arrest. This resulted in one officer wrestling Eric Garner to ground while others maintained him there. He was maintained on the ground, facing down long enough to lose consciousness. “I can’t breathe” are most likely the last words he pronounced.
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd lost his life pretty much the same way. George Floyd did not apparently resist his arrest though, various video footage show him complying with the police officer. This still did not prevent the police officer from holding him on the ground, face forward, with his knee on his neck for seven whole minutes. “I can’t breathe” and “I am about to die” are some of the words he spoke before he could no longer take a breath.
The list sadly goes on. Had those people not been people of colour, I don’t think they would have had to face these humiliations or the loss of their lives. I know what History did to us but I still wonder why is the colour of our skin a threat? The colour of our skin doesn’t define who we are. The colour of our skin doesn’t make us more aggressive. The colour of our skin does not equal TARGET. What do you, as a white person, see when you look at us that makes you feel so threatened?
The society we live in is so afraid of us that the ones that are supposed to protect us are often the ones taking us down with barely any consequences. In many of these stories these police officers never really faced any legal charges, the worst penalty they usually get is losing their job, if at that. That is why social media is now one of the main ways to try and get some justice for those crimes. I wonder for how long this avenue will still be a recourse.
France is trying to pass a law that will punish people who share images or videos of law enforcement officers on social media. The rationale being that, these agents are put in danger when their faces are shared like that. I understand the reason, and I’m well aware that not every law enforcement officer is out there to get us.
However, if this goes through, how will we be able to raise awareness, speak up and ask for justice. It may start with not being able to share the face of the people perpetrating these crimes but how do we know it won’t go further and come to a point where we can no longer make our voices heard. Ultimately it may just prove one more time that our lives really don’t matter.
Writer – Deborah
Born and raised in France with a Congolese background, Deborah is a 30 something woman currently living in Toronto. Traveling, reading and taking pictures are a few of things you can catch her doing when she is not indulging in Korean dramas. “I think the first thing that comes to mind when people think of me is my smile.” She loves learning new things and has a wealth of random knowledge.