The US Elections and the Minneapolis Story of Mr. Chauvin!
The US Elections and the Minneapolis Story of Mr. Chauvin!
It is a painful irony that an African American is killed under the knee of a white police officer in Minnesota, the ‘most Scandinavian US state’.
It is also ironic that this predominantly white state lies in the country’s cold northern borders with Canada, not in the southern ‘Cotton Belt’ noted for its hot weather and race relations, and evangelical conservatism. In the latter, the grandfathers of its present-day African Americans were originally brought as slaves to work in the vast cotton plantations; while their descendants have barely accepted the virtues of the anti-segregation ‘Civil Rights Movement’ of the 1960s.
A third irony is that the police officer who committed the crime is called Derek Chauvin. Yes …‘Chauvin’; and the crime itself happened at a time of heated ‘Chauvinist’ rhetoric with the countdown of the presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections next November.
In fact, the relationship between the police and activists and demonstrators, almost everywhere in the world is not perfect; and although democratic governments recognize the right of expression as a basic ingredient of democratic practice, ‘emotional’ street demonstrations are rarely immune to violent confrontations. A recent salient example has been the French ‘Yellow Vests’ demonstrations in the streets and squares of Paris, before Covid-19 managed to turn them into deserted landscapes.
Usually, the security forces’ task is containment; however, sometimes certain policemen become tempted to make use of the superiority of being armed, and also being shielded by the command structure, to go all out in defense of law and order, as well as private and public property.
On the other side, with the exception of anarchists and ‘embedded saboteurs’, honest believers in a certain cause only take to the streets because they are committed to a cause, defending against injustice, or fighting hunger. This keeps clashes within accepted limits, but it is never the case when the overall picture is far from this innocent reality. In such cases, accumulated prejudices and animosities – many of which lying dormant – come in the open, with tragic consequences.
The history of America, is colorful and diverse, enriching this great country with a multitude of races, cultures, religions, and sects that immigrated from all corners of the world. The young country grew gradually, expanding westwards, through wars and purchases of land; hence, bring in more and more diversity.
The original 13 states – symbolized in the American flag by the red and white stripes – were originally settled by immigrants from the British Isles (the states of ‘New England’, as well as Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia), Germany (the states of the ‘Midwest’ south of the Great Lakes, and the Netherlands -New York and Pennsylvania). At that time Florida was Spanish, while the Scandinavians settled first in New York and then in Minnesota. As for the French, they colonized the vast area west of the Mississippi River towards the Rockies, with New Orleans (named after the city of Orleans in France) as their main hub in the present-day state of Louisiana. Indeed, many cities and towns in this huge area, which once extended well into northeast Canada, still have French names.
As the wealth, power, and political clout of the USA continued to grow, more immigrants and refugees arrived, settled and assimilated, each according to abilities, circumstances, and interests. Furthermore, along with immigration, technological advances hugely contributed to the change in the young country’s demographic and interest-based fabrics.
Here, it is worth mentioning that although the real political rivalry between the Democratic and Republican Parties began in the early 19th century; its seeds were sown in the early days of founding the country.
Today, the two great parties embody the rivalry between the Right-wing Conservatives (represented by the Republican Party) and Centrists and Center-Left Liberals (represented by the Democratic Party), but this scene has little to do with the original division. In the beginning, as the founding fathers were laying the foundations of the new country, the differences were centered around whether to have a strong central government, as the future Republicans wanted, or that state rights should be highly respected, as the future Democrats advocated. Eventually, a federal deal was agreed by the two sides that balanced out a strong ‘federal government’, strong ‘state governments’ that enjoyed wide rights and powers each with its state. The American Civil War (1861-1865), indeed had a lot to do with a conflict of interests between these two levels of authority, with the issue of slavery as a catalyst.
In the 20th century, as booming trade and industry further enhanced the status of America, the political orientations of two major parties gradually began to change. The Republican Party became more and more associated with free enterprise, closer ties with the church, and stronger pragmatic and conservative nationalism, the Democratic Party became the stronghold of ethnic and religious minorities, trade unionism and idealistic peaceful foreign policies.
The Minneapolis incident, in Minnesota’s largest city, had everything to do with the old-new divide in America; which has become more complicated after the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is worth noting here, that President Donald Trump was elected in the autumn of 2016, on a nationalist conservative platform, by a clear majority of the white vote. He managed, before and after his election, to provoke the anger of many minorities, including those who opposed his project of building a wall along the borders with Mexico, and his restriction on immigration.
Then, when Covid-19 struck, major urban centers like New York City and Detroit, bore the brunt, particularly, their poor African American and Hispanic (Latino) neighborhoods; and while Democratic governors turned their attention to caring about patients, vulnerable people and medical and public health workers, President Trump and Republican leaders were more interested in helping the economy and saving businesses.
On this issue, the old conflict between the power of the Center – i.e, the federal capital Washington D.C. – and the state governments; between a rich, white and right-wing president and the inhabitants of poor neighborhoods many of whom are ‘minoritarians’!
Faced with this scenario, promoters of racists and white supremacists, exploited Trump’s nationalist and protectionist policies, and took to the streets in armed protests against the lockdown; as unemployment figures exceeded 40 million people claiming benefits.
In Minneapolis, nationwide anger and chaos erupted when a white officer technically ‘strangled’ with his knee an African American suspect called George Floyd. The officer, Derek Chauvin would not ease his fatal squeeze of Floyd’s neck despite the latter’s pleading for breath. This brutal behavior took place not only during a tense period but also during an election year.
No doubt that ‘Chauvinism’ is dangerous, and chaotic violence is even more dangerous. But what may be the most worrying development, would be the possibility that dubious and adventurers may gamble on creating deeper divisions and conflict in order to influence the results of the November elections.