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The pandemic and George Floyd: A biopolitical trap of poverty and racism

  • Sam Hamad
  • 3 Jun 2020

Black lives, whether under the knee of a killer cop or at the mercy of a racist health system, are under attack.

The dome of the US Capitol is visible as a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter" hangs on an overpass on North Capitol Street in Washington, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, following days of continuing protests over the killing of George Floyd. ( AP )

It was for the alleged crime of fraud that 46-year-old George Floyd was choked to death by a police officer. The officers claim he resisted arrest, but this has already been proven to be false by surveillance video from a nearby restaurant and eyewitnesses at the scene. 

The fact it was alleged fraud that incited this deadly encounter is more significant than one might think. Not only due to the innocuousness of the alleged crime  – Floyd had allegedly tried to use a fake $20 bill – but also the circumstances that conceivably might have pushed Floyd into using counterfeit money.

Floyd, like millions of others, had recently been made redundant from his job as a bouncer at a Minnesota restaurant. Though millions of people have shared this fate, in any inherently anti-egalitarian society, those who have the most precarious jobs have been the worst affected by Covid-19’s decimation of the economy. For these people, poverty awaits.  

Given the long-standing relation of job insecurity, poverty and racism in the US, it’s of little surprise that African Americans have been the hardest hit demographic when it comes to the mass unemployment that has accompanied Covid-19.

Covid-19’s role in the story of the murder of George Floyd isn’t merely the inciting incident in the circumstances that led to his fatal confrontation with police, but rather a wicked encapsulation of the past and present of racism in American society.

Though Floyd, nose bleeding and repeatedly pleading for his life, died under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, who has now been arrested and charged with murder, all across the US, African Americans are being disproportionately ravaged by Covid-19. 

Despite making up 12.7 percent of the population, a comprehensive study found that African Americans comprise 60 percent of all deaths from Covid-19, while 22 percent of counties in the US host black majority populations, yet these localities provide 50 percent of Covid-19 cases.   

Caught in a vicious trap of institutional racism in employment, housing, criminal justice, and healthcare, African Americans have found themselves more likely to contract and die from Covid-19.  

Not only do black people have the most limited access to healthcare among any US demographic, but when they do receive it, they face shocking levels of discrimination from doctors, to the point that the CDC had to put out advice to health professionals regarding not letting bias influence treatment.

A study put out by a US biotechnology firm found that black people who report Covid-19 symptoms to healthcare facilities are much less likely to get tested and treated for the disease.  

Add into this the well-established causal relationship between poverty, in which black people disproportionately live, and associated chronic pre-existing medical issues that lead to a higher chance of death from Covid-19, and the lives of black people are subject to a more immediate layer of disposability.  

Covid-19 might still only be months old in microbiological terms, but the pre-existing social and health inequalities faced by African Americans have been known in detail for decades.

Yet, of course, nothing was done to address them. Just as nothing was done to address the fact that the police departments in the US seem to disproportionately attract white racist killers into their ranks.  

The epidemic of racist cops killing, maiming and assaulting black people in the US has, in the preceding few years alone, led to the high profile murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and, of course, Tamir Rice – a 12-year-old boy shot dead by police while holding a toy gun. These are just a few of the more high profile cases – the majority of racist brutality meted out by cops goes unreported.  

It seems that the ‘new normal’ in the US, the one that Donald Trump and his racist acolytes are so keen to achieve without recourse for scientific advice, is greatly influenced by the fact that the disease is disproportionately hitting black Americans harder.  

It’s easy to be sanguine about a killer virus when it’s largely killing the very demographics who tend not to vote for you.  

It’s why Trump can heap praise on armed, far-right anti-lockdown protestors, while he calls the protestors in Minnesota ‘thugs’ and appears to threaten them with death.  

The horrific murder of George Floyd by the police, and the righteously enraged protests that have accompanied them, serve a multitude of purposes regarding racism in the US that are summed up by perhaps the most important phrase in civil rights since Martin Luther King’s "I have a dream": Black Lives Matter.  

The fact that this slogan has become a necessity in modern America is a three-word indictment of the political system in the post-Civil Rights Act era.  

To quote Cornel West, the US has tried ‘black faces in high places’, with the election of Obama celebrated as a milestone in racial equality, but it has changed little: the racial injustices not only continue, but they do so with renewed vigour, given the pernicious triumph of Trumpism.  

The tried and tested technique of obfuscation by the system will refocus the lens onto the alleged evils of the protesters. Their anger, righteously rooted in the immediate, prior and multifaceted disposability of black lives and its perceived endlessness, will be conflated with looting and fringe far-left groups.  

Even governor Tom Walz, whose initial reaction to the killing was praiseworthy, has quickly changed his tune. 

Claiming the protests have been infiltrated by ‘elements of domestic terrorism’ and ‘international destabilisation’, Walz has essentially given the same Minnesota police responsible for the killing of Floyd the green light to brutally crackdown on the protestors.  

Black lives, whether they’re under the knee of a killer cop or at the mercy of a racist health system during an epidemic, matter. 

The scary thing is not the burning police stations and the national rage of the protesters, but rather the fact that there are those at the highest levels of power who, no matter how they disguise it, disagree with that sentiment. 

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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