Europe reacts to the death of George Floyd

, by Saksha Menezes

All the versions of this article: [English] [français] [italiano]

Europe reacts to the death of George Floyd
With thanks to photographer Ilia Kotchenkov for allowing us to use this photo taken at the protests in Amsterdam this week.

On May 25th, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Surveillance video then shows Floyd being led away in handcuffs to a police car - no signs of resistance can be seen in the footage. Yet a cell phone video later shows a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes, despite protests from onlookers that his life was in jeopardy whilst Floyd repeatedly says ‘I can’t breathe’ and then ‘I’m about to die’. When the officer eventually removed his knee, Floyd’s body lay limp and unresponsive. Floyd was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The latest in a series of police brutality cases in the US, his death has sparked a wave of protests in all 50 states of the United States and across the world.

There have been large demonstrations in many European countries. Most significantly, over 4000 people protested in Amsterdam on June 1 (as shown in the cover photo of this article, as well as this video posted on Twitter), while nearly 15,000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest police violence in Paris. A series of marches and demonstrations have occurred this week in London where a few thousand people gathered in Trafalgar Square and outside the US Embassy.

What is clear is that these protests are no longer just about the tragic death of George Floyd. Europe’s reaction highlights frustration with racism at home as well as in the US.

For instance, as reported by Fortune at the Hyde Park rally in London, protestor Gary Tatham noted that ‘The UK is not innocent… every black person, every person of colour in this country has faced racism.’ Another protester said ‘there is a real sense of hopelessness’ in the UK over the death of Floyd. Racism in this country is not as ‘overt’ as in the US, she said ‘it’s tied up in a bow’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Many European leaders have commented on George Floyd’s death.

Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, described the death of George Floyd as ‘unacceptable’ and emphasised that racism is a problem in the Netherlands as well as the US. He added that discrimination in the country was a ‘systemic problem’ and ‘Here too, people are judged on their origin’. However, similar to many European leaders, he said it was irresponsible to gather without social distancing, as happened in Amsterdam.

Members of the government have also spoken out in Germany. ‘Racism is certainly not an American problem, rather a problem in many societies, and I am sure that there is also racism in Germany,’ a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, said at a press conference in Berlin. Footage of protests in the German capital can be seen on Twitter.

French government spokesperson, Sibeth Ndiaye, has said that France is not a racist country and should not be compared with the US. The situation in the two countries was ‘not at all comparable… not historically, nor in the way our societies are organised’ she emphasised. Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at protestors who gathered in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Tuesday evening. About 20,000 people turned up for a demonstration in Paris that was banned by the authorities. However, Ndiaye adds that Tuesday’s protests were banned for health and not political reasons. A video of the protests can be seen via this post as well as this one via Twitter.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also called the death of George Floyd ‘appalling’ and ‘inexcusable’ but urged protests in the US and elsewhere to stay within the law and behave in a ‘reasonable way’. Addressing the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions, he said he understood the protestors’ anger but declined to comment on whether he had raised his concerns with Donald Trump. Footage of protests in London can be seen here.

What will happen next with this protest movement in Europe and across the globe? Is it a one-off event with little long-term momentum or the start of a bigger wave of change? For now, it is hard to predict.

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