Racism, Systematic Oppression and Police Brutality in the 21st Century

When I participated in the 2019 Seoul Pride Parade, I was shocked by the support participants received from the Korean police. In my country, India the police have always been a force to fear and avoid. A force that is controlled by a political agenda, sent to silence those that speak out against injustice. A force that uses its power to abuse and extort from those that cannot rely on their wealth and position in society. 

The Korean police, in contrast, protected parade participants, diverted traffic, and ensured that not one skirmish broke out between people with opposing views. Whether they support the pride parade or not, whether they support LGBT+ rights or not, did not play a factor in their ability to do their job: to serve and protect. Why is it that this concept seems so hard to grasp for police forces outside of Korea? 

The city of Minneapolis, United States broke out into protest after another instance of police brutality that resulted in the murder of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd. A horrific video that has now gone viral shows Floyd being pinned to the ground by a white officer, who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, despite onlookers’ repeated requests to let him up off the ground as Floyd begs the officer that he cannot breathe. 

Why was Floyd arrested? Why was there a need to violently pin him to the ground despite him making no attempt to resist his arrest? Because a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.

Demonstrators lay on the ground facing a police line in front of the United States White House on June 3, 2020/ Source: NPR

Floyd is just one in a string of many black Americans that have died at the hands of police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained international attention in the wake of the protests that have broken out all over the United States. And yet peaceful protesters have been met with even more police brutality in the form of tear gas, pellet guns, and batons. Viral videos of the police pushing and kicking protestors and even driving police vehicles into crowds of people have led to an even more visceral response. Protests have broken out in several cities across the United States and even gained international support. 

But police brutality isn’t limited to the United States, the United Kingdom has a violent history of racism at the hands of the police. Hong Kong’s anti-government protestors continue to face brutal arrests and torture at the hands of the police since they began their movement in March 2019. The people of Kashmir continue to suffer at the hands of militarized forces, with human rights offenses that have been condemned by international organizations around the world. These are just to name a few. On a personal note, I felt safer protesting against the Indian government’s islamophobic Citizen Amendment Act whilst in Korea, supported by Korean police forces, than my friends did back home where peaceful protests were similarly met with police brutality. So why is police brutality so prevalent around the world? And who benefits from the systematic oppression that it adds to?

Pro-democracy protesters are arrested during clashes in Wan Chai district, Hong Kong/Source: Financial Times

The term ‘Internal Colonialism’ is defined as “a country exploiting its own minority groups, using social institutions to deny minority access to society’s full benefits.” This ensures that those at the top, stay at the top. And people of color hardly make it to the top due to historical disadvantage and continued discrimination. While it might be people of color in the west, within diverse multicultural countries like mine, it is the oppression of minority groups that don’t fit the nationalistic agenda. Besides the Muslim community, it is those from the North-Eastern states of India, who are often discriminated against for their East-Asiatic features. The spread of Covid-19 in the nation has led to troubling racism inflicted on them, leading to ‘coronavirus’ becoming a slur word in India. This is not unlike the racism experienced by East-Asians across the world. Poor migrant workers in India, who are left with no choice but to walk to their villages and cities in the wake of a sudden countrywide lockdown due to Covid-19 are also being subjected to horrific police brutality. 

Women form a human shield around a man beaten by police during protests against new citizenship law, India, December 15, 2019/ Source: IndiaToday

Racism and discrimination against minority groups serve this system of oppression and ensures that those at the lowest rung of society continue to be discriminated against and are kept busy fighting for their rights. Busy long enough to not notice that those at the top continue to warm their seats. Statements like ‘When The Looting Starts, The Shooting Starts‘ by Donald Trump and ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko’ (Shoot the traitors of the nation) by Indian Union Minister Anurag Thakur are direct commands to the police and serve to dehumanize protestors as barbarians that deserve to be punished for causing havoc. While peaceful protests are hardly shown in the media, instances of violence take up headlines as a part of this system that continues to punish the oppressed for fighting for basic human rights. 

Until systematic oppression of marginalized groups is dismantled, issues like police brutality and racism will continue to rear its ugly head at regular intervals. I believe that dissent is a human right and there is no right or wrong way to protest, especially when it comes to something like dismantling 400-year-old systematic oppression. We must remember that it was the revolutionaries, the ones that died in protest, who paved the way for people of color, women, the LGBT+ community and other historically marginalized groups. 

If we have more rage for a few burning buses and buildings than we do for the murder of George Floyd and others around the world, then we are a part of the problem. 

Suhena Mehra
About Suhena Mehra 8 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Suhena Mehra is a Masters student at Yonsei GSIS, majoring in Korean Studies. She is also a POSCO Asia Fellow. She graduated from Aston University, United Kingdom, where she majored in B.Sc. Business and Computer Science. Suhena also worked at the Cultural wing of the Korean Embassy in New Delhi, India, as a Program Coordinator, working to promote Korean language and culture in India.

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