The days pass but the anger remains strong. The protest movement born in the United States after the death of a black American, George Floyd, during his arrest, on May 25, by white police officers in Minneapolis does not stop growing. The night of Sunday, May 31 to Monday, June 1, sparked new clashes between protesters and law enforcement in several cities across the country, including just steps from the White House in Washington.
National Guard soldiers have been deployed to 15 states while local authorities have imposed curfews in dozens of cities. Unheard of since the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.
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"There is something exceptional going on in the United States at the moment, we are dealing with a powder magazine that has exploded", judge Romain Huret, historian from the United States and director of studies at the École des Hautes Etudes en social science (EHESS), contacted by France 24.
The origin of the movement and the movement itself are reminiscent of the riots following the 1992 acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King in Los Angeles or, more recently, the protests following the death of Michael Brown in 2014, in Ferguson. But because of "the speed of diffusion of the movement and its scale, with the combination of pacifist and violent demonstrations in as many cities and in such a strong way", notes Romain Huret, the history that is currently being written in the United States is unpublished.
- A particular context
"The United States has lived in an extreme climate of polarization since the election of Donald Trump, who has been playing with fire for three years using racist words, inciting hatred and disobedience part of the population ", underlines Romain Huret.
However, the violence of the images of the arrest, with a man on the ground asking to breathe and a police officer preventing him, shocked a large part of public opinion. Widely disseminated on social networks, these images served as a detonator.
"The death of George Floyd also comes at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, which highlighted the great inequalities existing in the United States. The epidemic has wreaked havoc within the African-American community, whether in terms of death or impact on the informal economy that allows a large part of this population to survive, "says the specialist from the United States.
- A movement that goes beyond the racial question
"By his lack of reaction at first, then by his tweets which made the situation worse, Donald Trump symbolizes the absence of humanity. He showed that, for him, not all human lives are created equal", analyzes Romain Huret.
The American president indeed called on Twitter to shoot the demonstrators to restore order and urged local authorities to call on the National Guard, leading to the conviction of Barack Obama. It also further fueled the anger of an American left already dismayed by its management of the health crisis.
.... These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
"Compared to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, this is not just a racial problem, believes Romain Huret. The Americans cannot accept what they have seen and are faced with a choice of social contract, of almost civilization "What America do we want? All these demonstrations call for a reflection on living together in the United States, on what is acceptable and what is unacceptable."
- Many white people among the protesters
Unlike the Los Angeles riots in 1992 or, to a lesser extent, the Ferguson protests in 2014, the current movement in the United States brings together a very diverse population. Many whites spontaneously took to the streets.
"For part of the white community, the death of George Floyd marked the end of the illusions born with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, when we spoke of 'post-racial' and 'colorblind' America, analyzes Romain Huret. These white people realize today that there is still a long way to go because institutional racism is always present in daily actions. They have become aware of the need to make it disappear. "
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Young white people are particularly mobilized. "Massive support from Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, they represent a more advanced left on questions of racial justice and social justice", indicates the director of studies of the EHESS.
- Solidarity police
In Houston, George Floyd's hometown, police chief Art Acevedo joined the protesters on Saturday May 30 to show solidarity. "I think we are at a turning point," he told CNN, hoping to see "a major reform" in the treatment of police officers who used lethal force.
In New York, Kansas City, Michigan, New Jersey and elsewhere, other police officers knelt or marched alongside the protesters. The sign that, even in the ranks of the police, mentalities are changing.
Chief Wysocki on the march today, standing together with the residents we serve to remember and honor George Floyd. #StrongerTogether #CamdenStrong pic.twitter.com/UJAjxXkxrx- Camden County Police (@CamdenCountyPD) May 31, 2020
"It is rather rare to see police officers joining demonstrators, underlines Romain Huret. Often, the police invoke professional misconduct in this type of case. But these police officers who knelt on the ground show that they reject this argument and that this is clearly a moral fault. "
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