Those in authority need to act now. We therefore encourage the public to march peacefully in support of justice for George Floyd and other victims of systemic racism in the United States and Canada. We urge those in positions of leadership and law enforcement to commit to removing their knees from the necks of the socially marginalised, and allow them to breathe.
The assassination of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, by four uniformed Minneapolis police officers, offends our collective sensibilities as human beings, scholars, members of the University of Alberta academic community and individuals with variegated identities and roles in families drawn from around the world. We condemn in the highest of terms the insouciant action and vile disregard for human life that resulted in the untimely death of Floyd. No one should have their life snuffed out in such a callous manner. The fact that the four individuals responsible for this homicide were actually paid police officers who had sworn an oath to protect and serve members of the community, simply magnifies our sense of revulsion, horror and dismay over this incident. George Floyd’s death diminishes our collective humanity. The manner in which he died symbolises 400 years of struggle against brutality, oppression and systemic racial discrimination. Those three words: “I can’t breathe”, expressed the collective asphyxiation that have constricted the hopes, dreams and progress of people of colour since the days of slavery.
While four police officers are now charged with the horrific death of Floyd, we must acknowledge that they were not the engineers of the system that made such a despicable act possible. They were merely on a short shift as ‘technicians’; an extreme example of a much deeper, complex, heinous and structural problem. We know this because Floyd’s death is only the latest in a constellation of brutal and barbaric acts of police violence perpetrated against minorities, particularly black people, in the United States. This transgenerational violence has been historically condoned by institutional structures in American society, known for its systemic racism, and aided and abetted by the silence of the majority of its members.
The pressed knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds on Floyd’s neck did not just come from that individual, who shall remain nameless. That knee from the primary assassin symbolically represented a venomous system engaged in the degradation of black lives. It essentially represented a knee on the necks of people of colour; something that is reflected in the life expectancy differential, alongside that of the unemployment rate, incarceration rate, education gap, wealth gap, health inequity, and more recently, casualty figures from the COVID-19 pandemic. These social facts are products of the intricate interactions of a range of institutional and non-institutional actors — some of them professionals, with mastery of the language of social justice, whose roles have been in essence to stymie progress for black people and other minorities, while sustaining white privilege.
The fact that many of these protesters are young gives us hope that this new generation may herald the change we have craved. The fact that they have injected a sense of urgency around the need for the elimination of systemic racism and police brutality should magnify our hope.
We note the parallels of Floyd’s death and the systematic discrimination against African Americans in the U.S., with the maltreatment of and entrenched bigotry against indigenous peoples in Canada. Daily micro and macro aggressions, routine denial of opportunity and racialised violence impact the lives of indigenous peoples in this country. We identify with the struggles of indigenous peoples and communities to live dignified lives on the land of their ancestors.
We believe in the truism that silence is not neutrality. There are certain social circumstances that call on us to abhor neutrality. This is one of those situations. We are heartened by the rainbow coalition of thousands of peaceful protesters across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, England, Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Syria, Brazil, Mexico, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and other parts of the globe, who have raised their voice in unison to proclaim “enough is enough” and “Black lives matter”. The fact that many of these protesters are young gives us hope that this new generation may herald the change we have craved. The fact that they have injected a sense of urgency around the need for the elimination of systemic racism and police brutality should magnify our hope. Their activism, empathy, energy, articulation of demands, and openness to dialogue can galvanise real societal change.
We empathise with the family, friends and acquaintances of George Floyd and everyone impacted, including black members of the University of Alberta community, the black community in Edmonton and across Canada. We hope that this moment calls attention to the need for a fairer and more equitable world. Words are no longer enough. Arrest is not conviction. Justice must be served. Those in authority need to act now. We therefore encourage the public to march peacefully in support of justice for George Floyd and other victims of systemic racism in the United States and Canada. We urge those in positions of leadership and law enforcement to commit to removing their knees from the necks of the socially marginalised, and allow them to breathe.
Temitope Oriola, Department of Sociology
W. Andy Knight, Department of Political Science
Philomena Okeke-Ihejirika, Women’s and Gender Studies
Bukola Salami, Faculty of Nursing
Onookome Okome, Department of English and Film Studies
Malinda Smith, Department of Political Science
Amy Kaler, Department of Sociology
Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Department of Political Science
Catherine Kellogg, Department of Political Science
Richard Westerman, Department of Sociology
Karen Hughes, Department of Sociology
Michelle Maroto, Department of Sociology
Kevin Haggerty, Department of Sociology
Sandra Bucerius, Department of Sociology
Patti Kim, Department of Sociology
Robyn Lee, Department of Sociology
Herbert Northcott, Department of Sociology
Holly Campeau, Department of Sociology
Kyle Willmott, Department of Sociology
Shirley Anne Tate, Department of Sociology
Sara Dorow, Department of Sociology
Sourayan Mookerjea, Department of Sociology
Rob Shields, Department of Sociology
We respectfully acknowledge that the University of Alberta is located on Treaty 6 — traditional lands of First Nations and Metis peoples.
Photo credit: Munshots on Unsplash.