Protests against police brutality and racial violence have been growing throughout the world. Many of them have been inspired by the American Black Lives Matter movement, which grew immensely this summer after the death of George Floyd and inspired people around the world to challenge racism and police misconduct in their own countries.
The BLM movement has inspired protests against police abuses and racism in many places and strengthened pre-existing movements in others. Here are a few:
The fight to #EndSARS and police brutality in Nigeria
Nigerians have long complained that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a specialized branch of the country's national police force, has engaged in widespread violence against civilians, including robbery, kidnapping, torture and murder.
International organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented dozens of killings and various other abuses at the hands of SARS, as well as more widespread corruption from the Nigerian police force.
As Blavity previously reported, the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria has brought Africa’s most populous nation to a standstill, even as government forces attempt to suppress protests through restrictions and violence. SARS was disbanded earlier in the month following the resurgence in protests, but demonstrators are pressing forward. More sweeping police reforms as well as an end to widespread government corruption continue to be demanded by citizens.
The movement to embrace BLM in the United Kingdom as the government downplays racism
The U.K. is one of the countries where BLM took roots a few years ago. The movement resonated with Black Britons, many of them the children and grandchildren of immigrants from the West Indies or African countries, who have faced their own experiences of police violence
The most prominent case in the U.K. remains the 2011 shooting death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by police, which set off waves of protest and rioting at the time. According to The Guardian, police claimed Duggan was shot while throwing away a gun that he was carrying, though extensive forensic analysis casts doubt on whether or not the official version of events could have happened the way police have described them.
More recently, rapper Wretch 32 shared a video of his 62-year-old father, civil rights activist Millard Scott, being tasered and knocked down stairs by police.
— Rapthology (@Wretch32) June 9, 2020
Problems of police violence and racism in the U.K. are not just isolated incidents. The 1999 McPherson report concluded "institutional racism" was present among the London Metropolitan Police, which also remains overwhelmingly white despite the multicultural makeup of the region.
Although BLM and protests against racialized police violence have been fixtures in the U.K. for years, activists still feel that the British government is not taking the movement seriously. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Trump-supporting conservative, has made dismissive and troubling statements, including declaring that the U.K. is not “a racist country” and that BLM protests had been “subverted by thuggery.”
In general, police in the country face few repercussions for deaths of civilians, whether white or members of minority communities. Of the 1,743 cases in which people have died in police custody in the U.K. since 1969, Amnesty International reports that only one officer has ever been punished (with a suspended sentence).
For French citizens, George Floyd being unable to breathe reopened racial wounds
France has long struggled with issues of racial and religious tension as the white and largely secular French society has had an uneasy relationship with non-white and often Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and Africa and their descendants. These communities are often targets of police force, discrimination and harassment. Including identity checks, arrests, and deaths in police custody.
The killing of George Floyd this summer renewed protests in France over the 2016 death of Adama Traoré. The Guardian reports the 24-year-old died of asphyxiation after being forcibly restrained by police and declared “I can’t breathe” before dying. After a week of protests this summer over the deaths of both Traoré and Floyd, the French government announced that it was banning police chokeholds.
However, as the New York Times reports, the French police, which operate as a unified national force in the country, have pushed back against greater reforms. French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is indebted to the police, who backed his government against the Yellow Vest protesters who criticized his government and during COVID-19 lockdowns.
The French police force is made up of two countrywide organizations: the National Police, which is in charge of cities and larger towns, and the National Gendarmerie, which patrols rural, suburban and border areas in the country. Militarization of the police is quite literal in France, as the Gendarmerie is considered a branch of the armed forces rather than a civilian force.
The national scope of these organizations give them significant political influence, as do the powerful police unions that represent them. French police unions, such as the Alliance Police Nationale, have staged counter-demonstrations against what they see as unfair criticisms and excessive reforms, throwing their handcuffs to the ground in protest.
Australian police continue to colonize Indigenous people as government rejects accusations of racism
In Australia, Indigenous people make up only 2% of the overall population but make up 28% of the prison population. Furthermore, as of June 2020, 432 indigenous people have died in police custody since in Australia since 1991, but not a single person has been convicted in their deaths. These deaths include that of 26 year old David Dungay Jr. who died in his jail cell in 2015 after being forcibly restrained by six guards and injected with a sedative after he refused to stop eating a pack of cookies. His last words, like those of George Floyd and Adama Traoré, were “I can’t breathe.”
Even before George Floyd’s killing sparked demonstrations in Australia, thousands of people had protested police brutality in that country. One example was the outrage over the 2019 killing of 19 year old Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot by police who then failed to render life saving aid, according to a report in the New York Times.
On a more systematic level, one of the worst examples of police abuse against Indigenous Australians came through the Northern Territory Intervention. Based on flimsy reports of widespread child abuse in the Northern Territory region of Australia (where Indigenous people make ups about 25% of the population and own half of the land), the government passed the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which essentially authorized the military and police to occupy Indigenous communities, even overriding a 1970s law against racial discrimination. The occupation has not resulted in any significant increase in arrests or convictions for child abuse, but has led to a massive increase increase in arrests and convictions for petty crimes, as well as "stop and frisk" style strip searches and harassment of Indigenous people, including children.
Australian authorities have been resistant to reform. Australia’s conservative Prime Minister, Scott Morrison argued that BLM protesters in his country were “importing the things that are happening overseas to Australia” and that the country’s racial problems were not comparable to those of the United States. Government officials were able to use COVID-19 restrictions to ban at least one major protest against police brutality this summer.
Israel's long history of targeting Black and Arab minorities returns to a national limelight
The decades long Israel-Palestine conflict has created years of violence and animosity between Israeli security forces and Palestinian civilians, who complain and sometimes fight against what they view as oppression, including annexation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank by Israeli settlers.
Accusations of abuse have been made against the Israeli riot police or Yasam, in particular. For instance, this summer, Palestinians condemned the shooting death of Iyad Halaq, a 32-year-old man with autism, who did not follow police orders, which he likely did not understand, and was found to be unarmed. Palestinian Lives Matter marches followed Halaq’s death, and Palestinians have also expressed solidarity with the American BLM movement.
Israel also has a small local Black community, mostly Ethiopian Jews who have emigrated to the country since the 1980s. These Black Israelis have often faced discrimination and skepticism from white Jewish Israelis, and they have experienced police aggression as well. An activist from the community noted to Time magazine that 40% of minors in the Israeli correctional system are Ethiopian origin, despite that community making up less than 1% of the country's population. The Ethiopian-Israeli community has been very vocal, engaging in mass protests against discrimination at various points over the last 40 years.
Black Israelis were especially outraged by the 2019 shooting death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah, who was killed when a warning shot fired by an Israeli police officer ricocheted and struck the teenager.
Israel’s Arab citizens, meanwhile, who make up 20% of the country’s population but who are literally treated as second-class citizens by the government, complain of a different problem. As reported by the Washington Post, many of them feel that Israeli police allow crime and violence to fester in Arab neighborhoods in ways that are not tolerated in Jewish neighborhoods.
South Africa reminds that Black police can perpetuate systemic racism
Death at the hands of police is common in the country and rarely draws protest. But, according to a report by the New York Times, the killing of Nathaniel Jules, a 16-year-old mixed-race teenager with Down syndrome, has outraged South Africans, who came out into the streets with “Say His Name” and “Coloured Lives Matter” signs.
South Africa has a long history of racism and police brutality. The apartheid system divided the society into several, ranked racial categories – a white minority at the top of the system, a large Black population at the bottom of society, and Asians (mostly those of Indian heritage) as well as “Coloureds” (mixed-race people, considered a separate category) in the middle.
This multi-layered racial oppression was brutally enforced by police officers, most of whom were Black but who were used to keep Black and other non-white South Africans in line. Even today, the mostly Black police force is still seen as harboring the systemic racism and biases of the old system and inflicting racist violence against South Africans. Some South African police officers, meanwhile, even reminisce about the apartheid days when they had additional leeway to "be police" without constraint, showing that even Black police officers are not immune to perpetuating systemic racism.
The uprisings over the horrific incidents of police brutality which took place this year have also created greater solidarity between the global movements which have been established to put an end to it. With BLM and equivalent slogans becoming universal rallying cries, the movement has met resistance in many places. But from Australia to Nigeria to the United Kingdom and United States, these movements are unlikely to stop until they've produced real change.