Many in the black community are now asking whether it's time to take a more powerful stand against the epidemic of institutional racism in US society.
The killing of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis and the outrage that has followed are not without precedent in the recent history of American race relations.
In fact, Eric Garner, an African-American choked to death on video by New York City police officers uttered the exact same words as Floyd before dying: “I can’t breathe.”
In both Floyd and Garner’s cases, the dead were accused of minor misdemeanors - in the case of Floyd, using a cheque that raised suspicions, and in the latter’s selling cigarettes illegally.
In both incidents, the deceased were outnumbered by police officers and did not pose any discernible threat, nor were they armed.
Reactions to each incident have also been similar; writhing anger at a system that routinely kills black people without any perceivable justification on the one hand, and persistent proclamations by many on the right that such killings are either justified or a rarity and therefore do not truly represent the racial dynamic operating in the US
In the case of Floyd’s death, protesters in Minneapolis clashed with police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
The death came shortly after a number of other high profile racial incidents in the country.
On Tuesday a New York city woman, Amy Cooper, was fired after she was caught on video threatening to call the police on a black man who had asked her to keep her dog on a leash. She specifically mentioned his ‘African-American’ background on the line with the police operator.
Earlier in May, health worker Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her sleep by police in Louisville, Kentucky. It was later revealed that police had raided the wrong house.
In February, Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead by a father and son pair while out for a run. The two were not arrested until video of the incident was released in May provoking international outcry.
The perception of inequality is further compounded when contrasted with the treatment of armed predominantly white anti-lockdown protesters and black people targeted by police, who either did not commit a crime or were accused of minor infringements.
Scenes of white men cosplaying in military fatigues and carrying semi-automatic rifles have become commonplace across state capitols across the country.
The question some African-Americans are asking, given what they see as a very blatant racial hierarchy in the US, is ‘what now?’
One increasingly visible call is for black Americans to practice their second amendment rights, which in its most accepted interpretation allows American citizens to carry arms.
One Twitter user typified the call, writing: “I will say this: we, as black people, need to start arming ourselves. Exercise our Second Amendment rights. The common denominator in all these murders: the black victim is unarmed.”
Rapper Snoop Dogg shared an image of a black woman with her collection of assault rifles laid out across the pavement outside of her home, adding the caption: “No more marching or talking stay ready so u don’t have to get ready.”
The second amendment
It’s a little known fact that a lot of gun legislation in the US was designed with keeping the weapons out of the hands of black people.
A 2011 article in The Atlantic described how the founding fathers of the country did not allow slaves and free blacks to carry guns.
During the civil rights era, groups such as the Black Panthers, actively sought to counter any restrictions on their carrying of arms. They believed it was a necessary deterrent to state violence and the terroristic form used by southern whites and groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan.
Malcolm X’s famous slogan “By any means necessary” later came to be associated with an image of him carrying a weapon.
The Atlantic article recounts a confrontation between Black Panther Huey P Newton and a police officer, in which Newton refuses to hand over his weapon and stands his ground until the police officer, unable to make an arrest because no crime had been committed, walks away.
One Twitter user, pointing to Newton’s example wrote: “Can we start bringing up Huey P Newton and his ideologies, when it comes to police brutality he did the most in terms of real action.”