The murder of George Floyd while under police custody sparked multiple protests around the world displaying their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are some covered by our Global Writers!
Resonating particularly with a post-colonial country that was scarred by decades of apartheid, the BLM movement has ignited in South Africa’s major cities. On 8th June, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) marched outside the US Embassy in Pretoria before moving to consulates in Johannesburg and Cape Town, holding placards showing solidarity with Black Americans.
Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, stressed that Black Americans showed support against the South African apartheid state, and added that “when they are going through such a difficult period it’s important that we too pay solidarity.” EFF protesters also knelt at an intersection in Johannesburg’s financial district for nine minutes, roughly the amount of time Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. Similar to the treatment towards statues commemorating racists in the UK, the statue of Paul Kruger, former president of the then South African Republic and Boer war leader, has also been defaced with red paint and the word “killer.”
The African National Congress (ANC) has shown solidarity with the BLM movement and has publicly shamed the American police for their brutality, asking the US to “ensure the total elimination of all forms of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin.” However, the ANC has been called out for hypocrisy for absolving armed officers from recent killings of black men during the national lockdown, namely Collins Khosa.
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro
Around 9,000 km south of Minneapolis, BLM demonstrators took to the streets after police shot 14-year-old João Pedro Matos Pinto in the back, killing him during a house raid in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Eduardo Benones, the federal investigator, said there was no evidence that illegal activity was taking place.
Bolsonaro’s emphasis on law and order has been followed by thousands killed by police in recent years, 75% of whom were Black. More than 600 people, predominantly Black, were killed by police this year in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone. Although the killing of João Pedro sparked the protests in Rio that have been ongoing throughout June, his death was more of a catalyst that called them to fight against a problem pervading Brazil for a long time. Protester João Gabriel Moreira said “Kill a young black man in a favela, it’s seen as normal — he must be a drug dealer” at a protest on 10th June in Duque de Caxias, a poor city in the Rio metropolitan area.
While the protesters have not received much praise from the Brazilian government itself, progress has been made. On 5th June, Brazil’s Supreme Court banned police operations in favelas until the end of lockdown, and Rio´s civil police have suspended three officers and are investigating the circumstances surrounding João Pedro´s death. Whether this progress will last is another matter entirely. Sérgio Camargo, a fervent Bolsonaro supporter and head of Brazil’s Palmares Cultural Foundation, responsible for nurturing Afro-Brazilian culture, labelled BLM protesters as “bloody scum” in a recording. He also branded the protests in Brazil as “useless”, and tweeted “lives matter. The colour doesn’t matter.”
Japan: Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto
Starting with 200 protesters on 31st May at the Maoi statue and continuing on 6th June, demonstrations in Tokyo have been held weekly both in solidarity with the BLM in the US and to speak out against the controversial treatment of a Kurdish man held in police custody. On June 14th, more than 3,500 protesters were recorded marching from Yoyogi Park to Shibuya Scramble Crossing holding placards saying: “Racism is the real pandemic” and “Black pride, enough is enough!” Sierra Todd, the founder of Black Lives Matter Tokyo, said that they wish to “start paving the way to introduce conversations about racism here in Japan.”
Similar scenes have been seen in Osaka on 7th June, where thousands of diverse ages and ethnicities marched to show their support. Inspired by these demonstrations, Kyoto also followed suit, where around 1,000 protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter” and held placards as they marched towards the city hall where they had a nine-minute silence.
NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, was forced to apologise and take down a video they used to try to explain the BLM movement. Featuring an anime caricature of an angry Black man surrounded by Black protesters, the video was condemned by Joseph M Young, the chargé d’affaires ad interim at the US embassy in Tokyo, and Baye McNeil, an Black American writer based in Japan, as “offensive and insensitive.” Other Japanese celebrities such as professional tennis player Naomi Osaka have shown support for the protests.
Protests bringing attention to racial injustice and calling for systemic reform have swept the globe, with several European protests taking place in the last month.
Germany saw large protests across ten cities, with some people obeying social-distancing rules while wearing masks and gloves after Angela Merkel’s request to do so.
In France, the family of Adama Traoré – a black man who suffocated while in police custody in 2016 – called for protests, organised by the advocacy group La Verité Pour Adama. In Paris, however, the protests turned violent after authorities refused to allow gatherings of over ten people, due to Covid-19 fears. This resulted in widespread arson, looting, and protestors throwing projectiles like rocks at police.
Italy had mostly peaceful sit-in protests and marches to the US embassy while Black Lives Matter activists such as Naomie Pieter organised large protests in the Netherlands. These partially respected social distancing as well.
Countries such as Poland and Denmark had smaller, peaceful protests – yet there were some instances of vandalism, like the defacing of a statue of General Tadeusz Kościuszko, a key 18th century figure in Polish and American history who also supported the emancipation and education of black slaves. The Polish government swiftly called for restoration of the monument.