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.

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.