Black. Lives. Matter.
The United States has erupted into protests over the systemic racism and brutality shown by white people, and specifically police, towards black people. New Zealand has also seen protests of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but not only because of what has happened across the pacific. Racial injustice is still prevalent here, and it is our job to combat it.
On May 25th, an African American man named George Floyd was arrested on a charge of passing counterfeit money in Minneapolis. He was then handcuffed face down on the pavement. A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes during the arrest, despite Floyd repeatedly pleading “I can’t breathe.” For the last three minutes of this, Floyd was unmoving and had no pulse, but Chauvin continued to kneel on him, even as medical staff arrived to treat him. Floyd was murdered by the police. The official autopsy from the police claimed that the cause of death was a cardiac arrest due to being restrained. An independent autopsy requested by Floyd’s family, however, found the cause of death to be “mechanical asphyxia”, meaning that the choking killed him.
Floyd’s death sparked protests across the States and the world. These protests were aimed against the brutality, use of excessive force, and lack of accountability of police. Many were organised by the Black Lives Matter movement, which aims to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” American police have a substantial reputation for targeting African Americans, and the movement aims to stop this. Unfortunately, systemic racism is not an issue unique to the United States. In fact, it is global – even here in New Zealand.
Even though those of Māori ethnicity make up only 16.5% of our total population, they account for 51% of our prison population. 67% of those shot by the Armed Offender Squad are Māori or Pacific. Lisa Meto Fox, a very active voice in our country for the rights of Māori and Pacific peoples, pointed out that “when we look at our people, particularly our Pacific women, we are the lowest paid in New Zealand with of course our Māori sisters and brothers next.” There is still a huge disparity between white people and indigenous peoples.
Ads on Spotify have been saying that “it’s time black people had a voice.” That is not true. Black people have had a voice, crying out since the days of their first contact with white people. On the contrary, it isn’t time for black people to have a voice, but for white people to have ears and listen.
That is where we, as students, come in. We can be the ears, listening to the needs of our indigenous peoples and acting on them. If necessary, we can repeat the issues louder. If enough people stand up for justice, there will be no choice but for everyone to listen. As we all head off into various careers and positions, let us remember: Black Lives Matter.
By George Hampton