Unrest in the USA: A reminder of 1971
The tragic death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police has caused a huge uproar all over the United States. A country which was in lockdown just a few days ago and lost more than 100,000 lives due to Covid-19 has risen again. A few days ago, cities across the US, had turned into ghost towns, streets were deserted and people hardly left their homes, but now it is a whole different scenario. George Floyd's tragic death prompted people to come out of their houses in the midst of a pandemic to protest the police brutality against African Americans. All the city streets all over America are bursting with people.
George Floyd was accused of handing out a $20 counterfeit bill. Four police officers came to arrest him. They handcuffed him and when he fell down, one of them sat on top of him pressing his knees on his neck for almost nine minutes. Mr George repeatedly pleaded for his life. He kept saying, "I can't breathe," "Mama" and "please". Everything happened in front of onlookers and some even videotaped the entire incident.
George Floyd was an African American. Throughout the history of America, white Americans tried to suppress African Americans. It has been 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery on January 1, 1863. Unfortunately, African Americans are still fighting for their rights. They are still victims of police brutality and other discriminations.
Many people of different colours are have joined the demonstrators. Chanting "Black lives Matter". Sometimes, peaceful protests are turning violent. Angry people are burning cars, stores, restaurants, breaking and looting the stores. Some are even attacking the police. To control the crowd and prevent looting, many cities have imposed curfews. For the last ten days, the country is in turmoil.
On the sixth day of the turmoil, a curfew was imposed in New York City for the first time since the demonstration started. The last time a curfew was imposed in NYC was in 1964 after the Harlem riot.
The curfew in NYC brought back memories of almost 50 years ago. My first encounter with a curfew was on March 26, 1971. Things were boiling for a long time, way before I was born. The ruling party West Pakistanis were trying to suppress the rights of Bengali people of the then East Pakistan. There were protests all over the country. I was a teenager, but I could sense the tension in the air.
At around 12 AM, loud explosions and gunfire erupted all over the city. Armed soldiers roamed the city all night long in heavy armoured vehicles and tanks. They entered into all the houses by the main streets. They were hunting for young men.
We left our home little after the gunfire erupted exactly at midnight. We were all terrified, trembling. There was no sound around us except for the gunfire and military vehicles. There was no light around us except for the lights from the explosions.
In the next morning, a curfew was imposed all over the city, which lasted for a few days. When the curfew was lifted briefly on March 27th, people began fleeing the city in flocks trying to escape the carnage. And right after the massacre, fight for independence had begun. People with no or little military training fought against a trained army. Currently the protesters are fighting against police brutality in the USA with similarity in one point: brutality.
In the past few decades, quite a lot of unarmed African Americans died in the hands of white police officers. Still the situation hasn't improved and more people are being murdered. We felt, in 1971, our ruler was suppressing us and we wanted to make a change. When people lose their tolerance they are not afraid of dying from Covid-19.
They are not even afraid of police, or the army anymore, which is a sign of desperation?
President Trump's fascist actions and comments have made people impatient and angry. Instead of calming down the situation, showing empathy, bringing people together, President Trump is dividing the country. He is escalating things by threatening to use army and tanks. He even used army to use rubber bullets and tear gas on the peaceful demonstrators just to disperse them so that he would be able to cross the street across the White House. That didn't deter the demonstrators, it fuelled their frustrations. They are now even coming out in greater numbers. Everywhere, in every city, there are demonstrations.
When people wake up--do not fear the oppressor, aren't even scared of dying in the pandemic--is a clear indication of their frustration. When people are desperate, they are not scared of risking their lives. What they want is change.
The writer is columnist,
teacher and activist. She writes from New York, USA.