Minneapolis has declared a state of emergency. For a week now, protests have raged on unabated in Minnesota’s largest city at the police murder of unarmed black man George Floyd. Initially peaceful, the protests have quickly escalated into clashes with the police, looting and arson.
President Trump has condemned the protests, of course, but he has not yet taken significant measures, deciding instead to hand over complete control to the local authorities – especially as the state of Minnesota, where it all began, is run by his Democratic opponents. The situation is complicated: a harsh crackdown on the protests will lead to a fall in ratings (including among African Americans, whose votes will be key in the forthcoming elections), but continued unrest will shake the confidence of Trump’s nuclear electorate.
The protests are being supported by opponents of Trump, led by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, albeit with reservations. It seems that, alongside the coronavirus, they will become a central theme of the election race. Whatever happens, developments in the country are extremely reminiscent of the techniques of a colour revolution.
The explosion of anger among the black community of Minneapolis was caused by a video recording uploaded to the Internet. The video shows a police officer throwing George Floyd to the ground then pressing his knee against his neck, while Floyd pleads for him to let go, saying that he can’t breathe. The video also shows that the execution lasted for eight minutes. In the end, Floyd stops moving and falls silent.
The authorities are calling for the residents of Minneapolis to stay at home and not go out into the streets. The unrest has spread to virtually every part of the city, which has a population of around half a million. Protesters are setting fire to garbage bins, overturning cars, looting shops, and clashing with the police. In just three days of unrest, around two hundred buildings in the city have been looted and set on fire.
Events in Minneapolis are also dangerous because they have started to spread throughout the whole country. In California, for example, hundreds of demonstrators protesting against the murder of George Floyd shut down the freeway in Los Angeles and smashed the windows of police cars. In Memphis, police closed a major road in the city after a crowd of angry young African Americans started to gather outside the police department. In New York, protesters stormed a police department in Brooklyn, looted shopping malls, and set fire to police trucks. In Atlanta, the CNN headquarters was damaged. In Texas, attempts were made to storm the state’s Supreme Court building; in Washington – the White House itself. In both cases, special forces fought off the attacks. But protesters did actually manage to take over the headquarters of the US Treasury for a short time.
The police arrested 46-year-old Floyd outside a grocery store after receiving a report that he had attempted to pay with a counterfeit banknote. The public prosecutor’s office and the FBI have made statements indicating that law enforcement officers are investigating the tragedy and that this investigation is now a priority. Among other things, the FBI will establish whether George Floyd’s civil rights were violated during his arrest.
On Tuesday, the police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck was fired from the police force along with three of his colleagues who were present at the time, and, the following day, the city’s mayor called for criminal charges to be brought against him.
US law enforcement officers were immediately given a history lesson in abuses of powers. The relationship between the US police force and America’s ethnic minorities is almost always one of blood, tears and violence. Riots sparked by the violation of fundamental rights, such as the right to education, began in the 1960s. Back then, African Americans secured the support of the Supreme Court and President John F Kennedy, although strict segregation was still practised in local communities and black people were not allowed in public places: transport, restaurants, universities.
After the triumph of democracy, life did not improve for African-, Latin and Native Americans. In the mid-1970s, descendants of the Sioux (Dakota) people organised a peaceful protest where their ancestors had lived, for which they were dispersed by the police and special forces. By the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the situation was not radically different. In 1992, the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating and causing grievous bodily harm to African American Rodney King sparked riots, during which at least 35 white Los Angeles residents were killed, and the total damage caused by protesters burning police cars and a sheriff’s department and destroying shops amounted to more than $1.5 billion.
In 2014, a police officer was acquitted of the high-profile murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. The Justice Department did not punish the white police officer who shot the unarmed young man but released him, concluding that the shooting had been in self-defence. The events provoked a genuine armed uprising in Ferguson, which was broken up by the police and the US National Guard.
In 2015, history repeated itself in Baltimore when police officers used excessive force in the arrest of a local 26-year-old African American, resulting in the suspect’s death. During the protests that followed, the city’s residents not only used firearms against the police for the first time, but also publicly set fire to US flags.
However, the problem is that the events provoking such riots in America are not the reason for the surge in discontent among the population, they are just the excuse.
Similar race riots regularly flared up during the second term of US President Barack Obama (despite the fact that he himself is an African American). This has not happened under Donald Trump primarily because of the economic growth that has improved the lives of people in even the poorest sections of society, many of whom are African American.
Now, however, because of the coronavirus, almost 40 million people have lost their jobs, and the total lockdown is increasing people’s levels of fatigue, stress and despair. So, the real reasons behind the protests go much deeper than the murder of one African American by a white police officer.
The problem with the protests in America’s cities is that they are gradually escalating into a real war. The US is the most armed country in the world, with more than 120 firearms per 100 people. An armed confrontation was just a question of time.
In fact, the protests in Minnesota have been stronger and fiercer than the previous skirmish between civilians and the police in North Carolina in 2016. The reason for the town’s residents and the police shooting at each other at that time was also the murder of an African American, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, who had allegedly gotten out of his car holding a handgun, before climbing back in and driving calmly down the road. Buildings were not set fire to, but African Americans still remained aggrieved at law enforcement officers.
Any displays of public aggression and protests are easy to predict, prevent or stop in the early stages. An ordinary police officer who knows how to negotiate can defuse a negative situation. It is clear this wasn’t done in the case of Minnesota. The conflict was allowed to flare up and only then was there a response. Abuses of power happen fairly often, but protests, especially armed confrontations, usually take place during the country’s political processes. Whether coincidences like these are accidental is probably the big question.
The nature of protests in the US is such that the situation will gradually spin out of control, and the further the confrontation between the authorities and the protesters develops, the less time and energy there will be to resolve the issue without bloodshed.
Initially, there will be more shoot-outs between protesters and the police. These may be provoked by either side. One can also not rule out the appearance of “unknown snipers” who shoot at members of both sides simultaneously. Then the authorities will try to stop acts of looting and vandalism by using the National Guard. This will be followed by clashes between civilians themselves. Supporters and critics of the riots may exchange fire with each other.
To prevent full-scale fighting and the destruction of cities, the authorities will have to bring in the military and establish curfews. If there is a delay in the use of force to quell the riots, the authorities are unlikely to avoid fatalities.