The need to breathe: The hidden impact of police brutality.

On Monday George Floyd lay on the ground with the knee of a police officer pressed down upon his neck. In pain and fearing for his life, he states “I can’t breathe”. Moments later he lay motionless. Not long after he is pronounced dead.

Although George Floyd was clearly the ultimate victim of this horrendous crime, the issue goes far beyond this one incident. It even goes beyond the problem of black men dying at the hands of police. This atrocity and numerous others like it are not just crimes against individuals. They are crimes against every black man, woman and child in the US.

Because it’s not just a knee in the back of the neck that can lead one to suffocate. It is also suffocating to live a life in fear of this brutality. Fear of jogging, fear of reaching into your pocket, fear of being pulled over in your car, or even the fear of what can happen sitting in the comfort of your own home. Fear of basic things that most of us wouldn’t even think twice about. Things that can and often do lead to death if you’re an African American in the United States.

And so they riot. They riot because they are tired of not being able to breathe unstifled. They are tired of having to prove themselves. To prove that they are not violent. To prove that they are decent. To prove that they are deserving of basic humanity.

They are tired of living in fear. Fear that they will make one wrong move, say one wrong word. Tired of the constant state of alertness they need to sustain. Tired of the fear that one day their sons won’t come home.

They riot because despite raising their voices, despite showing the world the injustice they face, this is the only approach they have left. They riot because despite speaking loudly and convincingly they continue to be unheard. They riot because nothing has changed, the deaths still occur and people still continue to defend the indefensible.

While I may not agree with their actions it is not difficult to understand why they have resorted to this. I understand why, after trying to use the proper channels time and time again, they now feel they have no choice but to take this route.

They have as much right to live a peacefully as any of us, to live a life without the constant worries and fears. They have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. They have the right to not have to worry about the looming threat of harassment and brutality. They have the right of the most basic of human needs: to breathe.

Perspective

While we sit at home during these uncertain times and reflect on how quickly our lives have changed, I hope that we also take a moment to consider those who also face uncertainty, but uncertainty of a different kind.

While we spend our uncertainty at home, trying to work out how to educate and entertain the kids, others spend their uncertainty in their homes, trying to work out how to distract their kids from the bombs that rain down upon them.

While we are forced to make decisions such as whether or not we should be relaxing our screen time restrictions, others are forced to make heart-wrenching decisions such as whether or not the family should sleep in one room….is it better to be all killed at once so that nobody has to live with the pain, or should they separate so that at least some of them survive?

While we worry about a possible disruption to our children’s education, others worry about the trauma of growing up in a warzone and the impact this will have on their children’s lives.

While we worry about running out of toilet paper and paper towel, others worry about running out of food.

While we panic when we see empty supermarket shelves for a couple of weeks, others face this for months or even years on end.  Not because some are hoarding and supermarkets can not keep up, but simply because there is not enough food to go around.  They watch their children get thinner and thinner.

While we worry about the possibility of spending the winter inside our solid homes with ducted heating and all the creature comforts we are accustomed to, others worry about spending the winter in flimsy tents that offer next to no protection against the elements.  They watch on as one by one other children die overnight from the freezing conditions and wonder if their child will be next.

While we worry about losing our homes due to not being able to pay mortgages,  others worry about losing their homes to bombs, along with their possessions inside of it, and possibly their entire families.

While we struggle today our brothers and sisters in humanity have been facing unimaginable struggles for years.  And while we rightfully stress the importance of being in this all together and helping one another out, our treatment of ‘others’ has not been so benevolent.  Over the past decade or so the Australian government has prided itself on its refusal to hold out a hand to those who are struggling, and our message has been loud and clear: do not bother coming here because we do not want to help anybody.  It shouldn’t take a disaster to recognise cruelty and harshness, but if anything positive comes from our current situation I hope it will be finding our humanity.

 

Planting the seeds of hatred: The radicalisation of the Christchurch shooter

The ideas of white supremacists are not new. The belief that whites are superior to others has existed since time immemorial.  What is new, however, is the prevailing climate we have today. An idea, like a seed, in order to grow, must be nurtured.  Then, and only then, will the holders of this idea be so brazen as to act on it.  Whether it’s in the attack of Muslim women on the streets or the callous slaughter of worshippers as their pray, it all begins with a tiny seed.

So how did we get here? How was this white Australian radicalised? What induced him to become a brutal terrorist? What emboldened him to act on his twisted ideology?

It was our leaders. It was John Howard, who cultivated the land by making it easy for us to hate after his fabrications that refugees and Muslims are the types of people who throw their children overboard into raging waters for some perceived benefit.  Who after sending our military to war based on false intelligence, went on to belittle his mistake, describing it as embarrassing and by doing so relegating the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives as a small blunder.

It was Tony Abbott, who planted the seed when he declared that “all cultures are not equal”. Who thought that Australia should stop “tip-toeing’ around the religion and that ASIO needs to be “open and upfront” about the danger in Islam.  Abbott, who stated that there are massive problems with Islam, that it needs to be reformed and who had no qualms about publically proclaiming this.

It was Malcolm Turnbull, who irrigated it in his famous phone call to Trump, where he reassured him that 80% of the refugees in a prospective refugee swap would be Christian, as if non-Christians, namely Muslims, were sub-human and born with an innate tendency towards violence.  Turnball, who later stated in a national security address that “our success as a multicultural society is built on strong foundations, which include the confidence of the Australian people that their government and it alone, determines who comes to Australia.”

It was fertilised by Hanson who rebuilt her political career on the back of Islamophobia as she warned Australia that we are being “swamped by Muslims”.  Hanson, who referred to Islam a disease we need to vaccinate ourselves against, and demonising Muslims whenever given an opportunity to do so.

And lastly, it was further nourished by Morrison who in late 2010 urged the then shadow cabinet to capitalise on the public’s concerns about “Muslim immigration”.  Who late last year, felt impelled to call out “radical, violent, extremist Islam that opposes our very way of life” stating that the “greatest threat….to this country is the radical and dangerous ideology of extremist Islam” and further claiming that Muslims, and in particular Muslim leaders are not doing enough.

Is it really surprising then, that a sadistic individual would be spurred on to inflict as much damage as possible upon those who he was taught to hate?  Is it really that astonishing that this fertile ground would give rise to an opportunist to create a name for himself? Is it any wonder, with our history of arousing hatred and Islamophobia, that a ‘cute little blonde boy’ would grow up to be a monster?

Late last year our Prime Minister said “There is a special responsibility on …leaders to protect their…communities and to ensure that these dangerous teachings and ideologies do not take root here.  They must be proactive, they must be alert and they must call this out, in their communities and more broadly for what it is”.

It’s not often that I agree with Morrison, but this an exception. I agree with him one hundred per cent, we do have to call it out.  Morrison and some of his fellow politicians have created the climate that allowed these dangerous teachings and ideologies to take root here and all we see now is the fruit of their labour.

The Danger of Defending Violent Acts

Picture this: A 26-year-old king hits an 18-year-old.  It comes out of nowhere.  The punch is so forceful that the victim is left with a broken jaw and missing teeth.  After the first couple of days where people are critical, the narrative surrounding the transgressor begins to change.  “He is is beside himself,” it is said.  “Good people do bad things.” Some even go further, seemingly showing more sympathy for the culprit. The victim “will be uncomfortable for a week or two and then he’ll be fine”.  In contrast, “the guilt and the shame will live with [the culprit] for the rest of his life”.  Even the father of the victim weighs in,  showing concern for the offender’s welfare amid “this maelstrom which is pretty intense”.

This is precisely what has occurred very publically in Melbourne over the past few days.  The original incident occurred on the football field during an AFL match on Sunday, with West Coast player, Andrew Gaff, striking Fremantle youngster, Andrew Brayshaw. The story has dominated the media since the event and you’d almost have to be living under a rock in Melbourne to be unaware of it.

On the one hand, I admire these comments. On the surface, showing empathy to one who is clearly suffering is to be valued. By defending him they were trying to help alleviate his shame and anguish, exacerbated by the barrage of criticism he faced in the immediate aftermath. I particularly admire Brayshaw’s self-less father who was willing to overlook the wrong done to his son and reach out to a young man in pain. However, given that this episode is not a private matter and played in the public arena, it goes beyond personal views.

The fact is, as some legal experts have implied, if this had occurred anywhere other than the football field, criminal charges would be laid. “I’ve had people go to jail for less,” stated prominent lawyer, Tom Percy.  There would be no media coverage surrounding the culprit’s remorse.  There would be no character references and statements highlighting the importance of separating the act from the person.  There certainly wouldn’t be any words of support from the victim’s father.

It’s not only the double standards that are of concern.  More troubling, is the effect that this saga will have on society at large.  What is the underlying message are we sending the community when sympathies are almost more aligned with the culprit? What are we saying about violence when it is suggested that the violent action should be separated from the person?  And most importantly, how will this impact on the rates of potentially deadly king hits and violence episodes towards women when we emphasise that good people can do bad things?

Andrew Gaff is not merely a man who made a mistake.  Andrew Gaff is a role model and a hero to many.  When prominent individuals defend him after such a violent act, whether they are aware of it or not, they become defenders of all those who commit violent acts.  Maybe he is a good man and maybe the guilt will eat away at him for the rest of his life, but this is much bigger than the apparent suffering of one man.  The defense of Andrew Gaff can potentially contribute to the suffering of countless others, and people need to consider this before making these public statements of support.

 

 

 

 

When Leaders Betray

Recently in Melbourne, we have heard much about Sudanese gangs. As the new boogeyman, we are encouraged to fear them.  Australia’s minister for immigration, Peter Dutton,  has publically stated that Victorian’s are too scared to go out due to of a fear of African gangs.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

As leader of this country, I thought that Prime Minister Turnball would take a more measured approach.  Being the head of the liberal party I didn’t expect him to completely dismiss his minister. What I did expect though, was that maybe, just maybe, he would try to be a little more responsible.  Maybe he would provide some context and tone it down a little in an attempt to maintain social cohesion.  I was wrong.

After a warning by the Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commissioner, Kristen Hilton, against “racially divisive statements” the government didn’t back down.  Turnball defended his minister, claiming that “there is a real concern about Victorian gangs” and going on to say that “you’d have to be walking around with your hands over your ears in Melbourne not to hear it”.

As a Victorian who evidently walks around with her hands over her ears, I can honestly say that I have never actually come across anybody who expressed any fear towards Sudanese migrants.  Personally, the only fear I’ve felt towards Sudanese migrants has been that of their prowess on the football field.  What I have seen, however, is a lot of eye rolling and frustration towards a government who are dealing with this issue recklessly.

Even if there is a small minority who genuinely feel this fear, this needs to be dealt with appropriately.  Instead of allaying their fears this government has preferred to capitalise on them.  Instead of decreasing the tensions they have elected to fuel them.  Instead of leading responsibly they have chosen to betray those they are meant to represent.

Last week a 14-year-old Sudanese boy walking home from school was viciously attacked.  He was stabbed twice for no other reason than his African heritage, an attack which the media has chosen to largely ignore.  Where are racially divisive headlines when the victim is of African heritage?  Where is the hysteria and hyperbole? Where are the inflammatory government statements?  Sadly this boy was not only a victim of a cowardly attack, this boy was also a victim of the betrayal of his leaders.

Leaders are those who set the standard. Good leaders promote unity and cohesion among those they represent.  Bad leaders create discord and unrest.  Turnball and Dutton, you both have blood on your hands.