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3 June, 2020 08:45:13 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 3 June, 2020 09:56:31 PM

George Floyd and beyond

Can the US afford to ‘remain a leader in the effort to champion human rights and democratic ideals’? Why does not the list of annual country HR reports include the United States of America?
Shamim A. Zahedy
George Floyd and beyond

Killing of George Perry Floyd, the unarmed black American who was literally ‘knelt to death’ on camera by a US policeman in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020, and the subsequent protests all over the US have opened up new realities for reporters covering the chaos on the ground, apart from the racial issue the US is dealing with. African American people in US are being continually harassed and oppressed for decades.
The unprecedented targeted attacks on no less than dozens of journalists covering anti-racism protests by security forces using tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray came on the hot heel of President Donald J. Trump’s perpetual rants against journalists.
In his 31 May Twitter tirade, Trump said, “The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!”   
In the middle of Minneapolis mayhem, the reckless rants from none other than the head of state and government could only ‘inspire’ the law enforcers, who are also under a lot of stress doing their job, to deter journalists from doing their job, guaranteed by the First Amendment upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among others.
According to media reports, in many cases the reporters and media crew came under intense police assaults despite showing clear press credentials.

“The arrest of a CNN news crew live on air on Friday in Minneapolis, where unarmed black man George Floyd died at the hands of police, first drew global attention to how law enforcement authorities in the city were treating reporters covering protests that have descended into riots,” reported BBC.

According to BBC, two members of a TV crew from Reuters news agency were shot with rubber bullets while police dispersed protesters in Minneapolis; a BBC cameraman came under the charge of a riot police officer without warning or provocation in Washington DC, near the White House; and in Long Beach, California, a radio reporter was shot in the throat with a rubber bullet by a police officer.
Masked mob of protesters also attacked journalists, chasing and hitting a Fox News crew near the White House.

But, New York-based nonprofit organisation The Committee to Protect Journalists on June 1 said at least 125 press freedom violations were reported over three days of US protests.
“We are horrified by the continued use of harsh and sometimes violent actions of police against journalists doing their jobs. These are direct violations of press freedom, a fundamental Constitutional value of the United States,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York. “We call on local and state officials to explicitly exempt the news media from curfew regulations so that journalists are able to report freely.”

To speak of racism in the US, it is depressing that despite incredible development in the fields of economy and science especially over the last five decades racial discrimination has never ceased in a country that delivers sermons on free press, freedom of expression, good governance, social indiscrimination, minority protection and so on and so forth.

It is natural that one single police-custody killing of a black American will help authoritarian states such as Russia, China, and Iran point finger at the system and values the US is following.

Right away, Xinhua, the state-media of China, US’s new ‘cold war’ rival these days, comes up a detailed list of major racial riots between police and African Americans in recent years, saying the ‘latest instance of police violence has once again brought the public attention to the racial divide’, which has kept tearing the US society apart.

According to the Xinhua list, seven major incidents of violence centring around African Americans and security forces took place from 2012 to 2018 in the US with the killing of Antwon Rose Jr., an African American teenager, who was shot three times in the back by a police officer in Allegheny County on June 19, 2018, being the latest incident before George Floyd died.

The manner in which the unarmed Floyd was killed, with a police officer putting his one of kneels on the neck of the black man and pressing hard on the ground, was the reminiscence of July 17, 2014 killing of another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, who similarly kept saying "I can't breathe" ‘when a New York officer held him in a chokehold before his death in police custody’.

While on chokehold Floyd’s last words: “Please I can't breathe, "they're going to kill me", "my stomach hurts," "my neck hurts", "everything hurts" were heard in a video filmed by an onlooker, which was widely circulated on social media.
Chinese leaders and media now mock and ridicule the US, which a few days ago reprimanded China for its mishandling of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. It is an irony, indeed.

North Korea and Iran also admonished the US for its ‘double standard’ on crushing protests on the streets.  
North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported about the US demonstrations, saying that protesters “harshly condemned” a white policeman’s “lawless and brutal murder” of a black citizen.

Iranian government spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, in a news conference has urged the US to "stop oppression and aggressive conducts against its people and let them breathe."
Old rival Russia has also shown reaction. “The United States has certainly accumulated systemic human rights problems: race, ethnic and religious discrimination, police brutality, bias of justice, crowded prisons … to name a few,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s ‘mistreatment’ of racial and sometimes religious issues, apart from its frequent policy shifts and off-and-on fight with UN bodies and international agencies, the US has almost lost the moral standing to exhort others not to crush dissents.

It would be very hard to consume ‘the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices or the Human Rights Reports’, covering ‘internationally recognised individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements’.

The US Department of State ‘submits reports on all countries receiving assistance and all United Nations member states to the US Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Trade Act of 1974’.
Can the US afford to ‘remain a leader in the effort to champion human rights and democratic ideals’? Why does not the list of annual country HR reports include the United States of America?

Is the US drifting from ideals of its founding fathers, who 244 years ago in 1776 wrote the declaration of independence, promising ‘democracy, individual freedom, equal protection under the rule of law, and the protection of human rights’?

While drafting the constitution the US founding fathers brought a revolution in their definition of nationalism, which was based on political ideals and commitments, shedding the dogmatic ideologies based on religions, ethnicities and languages.
It is because of these values USA is a modern nation and a great nation at that. It is because of these values it was possible for it to elect a black man, an African American, as its president.

Making America great again is not doable with just military power and economic growth. Humane and compassionate approaches are important for the collective development of humanity, where the plight of one nation is the plight for all, where if one nation is not secured, all nations are vulnerable to attacks, destruction.

The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


More Articles by Shamim A. Zahedy:

Protect purity of every type of media (30-05-2020)

Disturbing disregard for social distancing (24-05-2020)

Interoperability is missing in business (23-05-2020)

“Education divide” in Bangladesh (21-05-2020)

Time to seek alternative financing for news media? (15-05-2020)

Govt needs to be techie to reach out to people in need of aid (09-05-2020)

Handcuffs for journalists (06-05-2020)

New business model required for news media in the post-virus era (03-05-2020)

An apology for print newspapers (03-04-2020)

Thank you, readers (26-03-2020)

A tribute: O Captain! My Captain! (06-03-2020)

Blockchain could be the answer to fair voting in Bangladesh (31-01-2020)

When the lawmakers brazenly call for extrajudicial killing (16-01-2020)

Democracy begins at the party level (29-05-2019)

Wars over Kashmir bring only deaths, not solution (01-04-2019)





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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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