By Lasisi Olagunju
You’ve heard of little sparks igniting big flames. It has taken just twenty American dollars to stop the whole world from breathing and for police forces across the world to be on trial. A $20 bill was used to buy cigarettes in a shop; shop owners suspected the bill to be fake; the police were called in; they came and knelt on a neck and the world of the United States convulsed. More people have died; buildings are gutted by fires of anger – and felony; white and black businesses have been looted (more may still be emptied). Millions of white and black, people of colour (and the colourless), mill everywhere around the world demanding that power takes its knee off all bruised, burdened necks.
The Chinese say “one step in the wrong direction causes a thousand years of regrets.” A recent report on ‘how one tick bite can ruin your health forever’ came to mind as I watched the world retching over a costly $20 death; a snap of fate which was crudely very unnecessary. When a witch kills the wrong game, it ends its earthly sport. That singular stroke of police madness in Minneapolis has ripped open the system, ruptured public peace and stability – and won’t stop causing pains and damages in delicate places, especially in the White House.
For the murderous policemen, because there is no armour against fate, the trade which their cutlass loved has knocked out its teeth. Where I come from, the policemen that killed that black man may be breathing, but they are dead too and would be mourned as the dead. Look at it: The first George Floyd memorial service ended last week, CNN immediately splashed faces of the fallen cops on the screen: Their bails had been set at $1 million each. I can imagine the depths of their regrets. Unfortunately, regretting a fatal deed is like chasing after the wind. Why did they go to work that day?
My people would say they went out the day the road was hungry. Or were they the ones hungry and hunting for victims? As those cops knelt on that black neck that bad day if they had known it was the banana peel of fate they were stepping on, they would have backed off. But because they were destined for destruction, they did not collectively have a running stomach that day and be off duty. Or be in the intensive care unit of a hospital somewhere nursing COVID-19. If their mothers are alive, they negligently failed in their duty of protective prayers for their sons. And if their mothers are late, the dead sadly, that day, overslept in their graves.
It was their death day.For the man who was killed, death was the catharsis he needed to be free. Even if it was the president that died, the funeral couldn’t have been louder in glory. The last eight minutes, 46 seconds of his life changed everything for him – and, maybe, for the world. The inexplicable pains of those last ‘unbreathing’ minutes released his reeling soul to triumphal heavens. He would be surprised at his own transformation from an unbalanced zero to a perfect hero.
At his memorial service on Thursday, the Cable News Network (CNN) was there; Sky News was there; the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was there. All major, global channels beamed the service live to the world. When was the last time there was such an unlikely consensus to honour a black man? Grace smiled at him in death. Golfers would say he was punted from nameless peasantry to very loud immortality. For Floyd, the unknown guard, Americans have lowered their guards against coronavirus.
Thousands still throng the streets, protesting, yelling, rallying without masks, without physical or social distancing.Power is like virginity, it takes a few seconds of indiscretion to lose it. It is confounding that it is to a dead man that Donald Trump has lost his invincibility. If Trump’s witches had told him to beware of a black man, he probably would have been hunting for Barrack Obama; but the black man who is turning out his nemesis is just a $20-clutching ghost floating in the air.
And, now, if he loses the November elections, Trump’s defeat will be blamed on the super vote of an unknown George Floyd. That is how powerful a cheated ghost could fight enablers of their untimely dispatch abroad. Still, if Trump manages to resurrect his win, Floyd will certainly take a chapter in the history book of that Pyrrhic victory.Police’s deadly misapplication of law and weapons is a global affliction. The difference is in how such is received and accommodated. You remember the Shiites, the police and the army in Kaduna and Abuja? How did we react to the killings?
In India, an essential service provider named Sonu Shah was on March 26 this year shot in the foot by the police. His offence: He refused to pay a bribe for driving during the coronavirus lockdown. “I was asked to take my vehicle to the police station. They hinted that the issue could be solved by paying Rs5000 ($67),” Shah said. He didn’t pay cash but paid with a bullet in a foot. His part of the country reacted with protests. On August 4, 2011, 29-year old Mark Duggan, a black man, was shot dead in the United Kingdom. The police said the shot was to get him arrested.
“Instead of putting my son on trial, they shot him, not once but twice…My son was a living human being until the police got hold of him,” his distraught mum told the media. Duggan’s death sparked an outrage – just like what you are seeing now in the United States: Looting of shops, burning of businesses, street brawls with the law and many more. The atrocious actions of the police and the mad reactions that followed did not stop many more from happening; at least we see that they did not stop the killing of Floyd and the storms that followed it.
Global condemnation of Floyd’s death won’t stop history repeating itself. Like the horrendous Hurricane Floyd of 1999, it may, again and again, birth other storms, in North America, in Europe, in Africa, even in darker places where sanity is farfetched. But, what lessons are there to learn from this American tragedy? I am interested in the reactions of the US military leadership to President Donald Trump’s strongman theatrics of June 1.
When the self-defined “president of law and order” promised to unleash “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” on peaceful protesters across America, he didn’t get an applause. Indeed, his senior military leaders revolted. They took public positions against his (un)measured madness. His own very Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, led the pack of almost 100 public dissenters: “The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations,” Esper said at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Esper’s predecessor, General James Mattis, added to the dissing of their commander-in-chief: “Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, DC, sets up a conflict – a false conflict – between the military and civilian society.” From Retired General Martin Dempsey, a former top US commander came a more urgent warning: “The idea that the military would be called in to suppress what for the most part were peaceful protests” is “very dangerous.”
From the military to the legislature, to police chiefs kneeling for freedom, the American spirit has managed to maintain its revulsion at the progressive browning of their White House. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a member of Trump’s political party, told the media at the US Capitol on Thursday that Trump’s authoritarian streaks were making her uncomfortable and unsure whether to support his re-election: “I thought General Mattis’s words were true and honest and necessary and overdue and I have been struggling for the right words. Perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.”
If this Senator were a Nigerian, she would be made tired of living. Her party would disown her, the Senate would suspend her; even a section of the media would harry her, for speaking against their god in the Villa. Across 16 years, Peoples Democratic Party leaders clapped for all hard tackles from Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. As you read this, military and police chiefs, APC leaders, members and hailers are under Buhari’s table lapping up the sputum of his excesses.
America can afford to have Trump, a third-world human, as president. It will, however, remain the first-world superpower as long as the humans holding the mainframes of the nation’s moral structure remain true to the country’s founding spirit of courage in patriotism. In the reactions of the American Generals to Trump’s fits are explanations for America’s greatness and the reason the country won’t go down so easily soon. Imagine Nigeria’s defence minister publicly telling imperial Muhammadu Buhari that he is wrong on any issue.
Think of the apocalyptic reaction that would follow that suicidal stance. And, imagine active service army chiefs lining up behind the minister against their commander-in-chief but in support of the Nigerian people. What do you think would be the middle and end of that drama? The ‘rebels’ would be accused of treason and convicted before trial. The people they seek to protect would disown and abandon them and wonder whose message they were delivering.
The media would join the president and his dogs to maul them even before their day in court. And their free fall would commence immediately with no one to stand for them. They would be alone and lonely, carrying their needless cross to their stupid Golgotha. They would end up exactly like Achebe’s man of courage: Cowards would point at their ruins, from zones of peace and comfort. That is why, here, we don’t have a country – and we may never have one.