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George Floyd’s death–stark reminder of impunity

This past couple of weeks have been monumental in the fight against racism in light of the protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis at the hands of his police captors on May 25th, 2020. It is a case that brings into sharp focus again the issue of racism, and the impunity with which it is treated by authorities the world over. The subject of ‘impunity’ is something that interests Campaign for Justice (C4J).

We know that we have rallied time and again against ‘impunity’ in our little Vanuatu. The word can be confusing to many ni-Vanuatu who might only be speaking English as a third, fourth or fifth language. Impunity, in simple terms is when someone is allowed to get away with a wrongful behaviour – so much so that the requirements of the law are nullified. When an organisation or government department, like the police cannot be held accountable for its officers’ wrongful behaviour, the results can turn out really nasty, as we have seen in the death of George Floyd and countless others in the past.

It was interesting that so many countries right across the globe could internalise the issue of racism because it is real. Why? Because it is taken lightly. Racism is real because it has been allowed to be practised within many in public offices and high places; institutions of government, agencies and private settings.

When authorities turn a blind eye and do nothing about an unlawful behaviour, it allows for law breakers to become blatant; they become brazen in their attitude and behaviour because they know they will get away in the end.

Unfortunately, within a police setting, the lack of punishment for any offences committed only emboldens criminal elements to continue their lawlessness and end up committing very serious crimes.

According to media reports, Mr George Floyd, who was drunk at the time of his arrest, had gone into a shop to buy cigarettes. He was accused of having used a counterfeit 20$ bill to buy cigarettes. It is clear from the many footages circulating on the internet that Mr. Floyd wasn’t resisting, despite being under the influence of alcohol. The videos showed Mr Floyd, unarmed and in handcuffs, dying later after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The footage – seen all around the world – showed him gasping that he could not breathe. Sickening to say the least!

But the crime is symptomatic of a much maligned system – an entrenched system of racism, but more so, the impunity with which racism is left unchecked. It’s the kind of thing that happens when police or justice systems do not uphold the law they are meant to protect.

Since 2018, we at C4J have been quite vocal about issues of injustice and lethargy on the part of the police department when it comes to following up on very genuine complaints (we will highlight some more of these specifically in our next blog). But especially when law enforcement authorities are allowed to do stuff outside of their duties, while impunity and complacency set in.

The main cop charged– Derek Chauvin had a history of police violence and brutality – 17 complaints in all. The second cop – Tou Thao, had six, according to a timeline of reportage by the New York Times. These men were known (at least that is what’s been uncovered) for police violence and brutality. But they had a refuge in the police department of Minneapolis.

While the courts will determine the cops’ ultimate guilt, one can tell from the footages that Mr Chauvin appeared as if he knew what he and his colleagues were up to. They were responding to a routine call for a “forgery in progress” – not some violence in the neighbourhood!

What might have been driving them? Racism, of course. But they also probably felt comfortable that they would get away with it. If Chauvin and Thao, could have gotten away with similar activities in the past, what guarantee was there that a drunk black African-American would get justice in the end?

Of course we all know now that they were seriously mistaken. Thanks to the power of social media, what might have been hidden in the dark alleys of the Minneapolis police department, has been exposed in the most powerful way – drawing the ire of people of all colours and nationalities around the world.

What we have seen is really a mirror reflection of our very own society and how low and sick it has become.

It is the kind of thing we would do well to avoid at all costs and yet that is not often the story. We have clear evidences of police inaction on many cases and complaints – some quite serious. C4J has consistently made it clear; not all within our own police system are corrupt. There are men and women in there who are true to their duty. We salute and commend them wholeheartedly for their faithfulness.

But not everyone has been true to their oaths of allegiance. Within our police hierarchy, there is a select few who will do anything – either to hide wrongdoings or protect their friends and cronies, even powerful ones in political circles. It makes it difficult for the ‘smol man’ to gain access to justice.

We wish to state categorically, impunity leads to all sorts of other crimes, including forgery as we’ve highlighted with Sgt Palo recently. It can also lead to criminals, such as Nigel Giltrap who demonstrated his ability to circumvent the system to avoid justice at all costs.

It is even worse if criminals can pay their way around the system.

Campaign for Justice will continue to advocate for authorities to weed out corruption by punishing wrongs within their ranks at the very first instance. Leaving anything undone only emboldens criminal elements, and exacerbates violent crimes such as the one we’ve seen resulting in the death of George Floyd.

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