America is a democratic country of over two centuries. The whole world believes that when it comes to matters of human rights and democratic principles they have a lot to learn from America, both in theory and in practice. The idea of liberty and justice for all is one that has always been at the foundation of the United States of America (USA). This is not only enshrined in the American Constitution of 17 September 1787 as amended, but it is also reproduced in the American pledge of *”one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”* The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution specifically provided that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law and that no State (I dare say, including Officials of the State) shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor deny to any person equal protection of the laws.
There is no doubt that in law and fact that the Constitution of the United States of America, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments recognises and protects the fundamental right to life and liberty of every American, whether white or black, individuals or authorities. It thus appears that the actions of some of the authorities have been historically inconsistent with the above American core values. These actions have been nothing short of a gross let-down of a specific sector of the entire population which at this point seems systemic.
On 25 May 2020, the whole world witnessed the video of the callous and dastardly murder of George Floyd, a 46 years old man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. In a most wicked manner, Derek Chauvin, a white Police officer had pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck while George Floyd was handcuffed. Two other Officers restrained Mr. George Floyd from any attempt to free himself from the choking act while the fourth Officer allegedly prevented onlookers and bystanders from intervening, and despite the distress shout of *I can’t breathe,* these stone cold officers saw no need to relax their grip and safe the life of George Floyd. According to the autopsy report, George Floyd’s death was attributed to cardiac arrest occasioned by his neck compression.
There is no doubt that this highly condemnable act by a Police officer is not only wrongful and unconstitutional but it is also highly unlawful, dastardly and criminal. There is no known law that empowers a law enforcement agent to take another person’s life by using excessive force outside possibly the principle of self-defence. None of the Officers at the scene, including Derek Chauvin, the Police officer who directly inflicted the deadly injury was at any risk of attack from the helpless George Floyd.
It is important to state that George Floyd is not the first victim of this reckless exhibitionism of power. There have been a couple of other incidents including but not limited to Breonna Taylor who was murdered right inside her apartment by police officers, Eric Garner and thousands of others. A report by the Washington Post reveals that over 5000 black lives have been wasted by the police in the United States between 2015 and now. The manner and circumstances of George Floyd’s death is a big stain to the democratic and human rights credentials of the United States of America. It is no wonder, therefore, that the death of George Floyd has elicited the widespread reactions and condemnations all over the world. It is right to say that the universal outrage and protest against the death of George Floyd is very well-founded.
The International Commission of Jurists in the Act of Athens in 1995, while condemning disregard for the Rule of Law in many countries of the world had insisted that the State is subject to the Law and that governments must respect the rights of individuals and provide effective means for the enforcement of those rights. It also enjoined all Lawyers of the world to defend the right of the individuals in the society. Any right-thinking member of the society must of necessity condemn this callous Police killing of George Floyd.
It is gratifying to note that not only have the Americans in their hundreds of thousands condemned this very despicable act through demonstrations and protests against the reckless and unlawful acts of the Police officers. It is also gratifying to note that the Attorney General of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, has filed an amended Charge for the offence of second-degree murder against the Police officer, Derek Chauvin, and offence of aiding and abetting the commission of a second-degree murder against the other three Officers. It is also gratifying that Minneapolis City Council is considering a total overhauling of the Police Department in that City.
I have no doubt in my mind that the public outcry and global condemnations will surely necessitate the speedy Prosecution of the suspects in the interest of justice to the soul of the deceased, but also to the grieving family and all oppressed African American people who will not want to see the repeat of this kind of precipitated criminality against a particular section of the society. If found guilty, the punishment must serve as a deterrent to all.
George Floyd repeatedly screamed *”I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”*, the 46 year old called out for his mother while breathing his last, but the dare devil officer was determined to finish up his heinous act. George breathed his last and gave up the ghost while people watched helplessly. The whole world is still watching his horrific last moment on earth with sorrow and anger. Justice must be served, for George Floyd’s soul may rest in peace. As Gorge Floyd is laid to rest today in his hometown of Houston, Texas, I pray that his last breathe leads to the emancipation of African Americans from police brutality and all manner of discrimination. I do hope that this will also cause the Police authorities in Nigeria to be more civil and professional in the way they relate with the people. Police brutality must stop, not only in the United States and Nigeria, but across the world.
Adieu George Floyd.
Dele Adesina SAN
Photo Credit – The New Yorker