The current uprising against racist police violence first erupted in the U.S., but it has now become an international movement.
Thousands of people in more than 40 countries have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity with Black Americans protesting in the U.S. following the vigilante and police murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Since these killings, young communists in Greece marched to the U.S. embassy in Athens to protest Floyd’s murder. In Rome, members of the Migrant Women and Daughters Network stood in front of a war memorial and held signs that said “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter: Justice for George Floyd.” In Amsterdam, thousands packed into Dam Square.
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These global expressions of solidarity underscore a long simmering discontent with state violence against Black and Indigenous people, and other communities of color. This global uprising is a descendant of Black and multinational anti-colonial, decolonization and internationalist movements of the 20th century, especially those of the 1960s.
Some reporters and activists draw connections between the current protests and Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. Journalists John Eligon and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura view these protests as an expression of a “leaderless movement,” relying upon decentralized organization and spontaneity. And, similar to Arab Spring, Occupy and the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests, participants are using social media platforms to mobilize large groups of people, to challenge prevailing beliefs about social change and to push the movement’s own narratives. Lebanese activist Sarah Aoun, meanwhile, points to how protesters in Arab nations and in the U.S. are responding to the similar conditions of “systemic inequalities.”
Demonstrators gathering in nations like Syria, Palestine, Canada and Kenya signal a surge of anti-racist internationalism guided by desires to communicate across national borders and amplifying victims’ names and Black Lives Matter slogans.
A group of Lebanese journalists, organizers and activists produced an online organizing guide, “From Beirut to Minneapolis,” detailing safety tips for activists who might be exposed to tear gas and pepper spray, what to wear during a protest and what to do if arrested. Transnational tactical communication is not a new development, as Palestinians tweeted similar advice to activists in Ferguson, Missouri, during the 2014 uprisings.
The sharing and amplification of slogans are clear examples of protest solidarity. The names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd ring throughout the world. They appeared on a Kenyan protester’s sign during a demonstration in Nairobi. Floyd’s name rang in London, as demonstrators chanted his name. People expressed Floyd’s and Eric Garner’s desperate refrain, “I can’t breathe” in Paris and on a mural in Syria, another country wracked by state violence.
However, people are not protesting simply to express solidarity. Thousands of protesters throughout the world are demonstrating and revolting against racism, occupation and state violence locally. In Toronto, a diverse crowd of protesters has taken to the streets to support Black Americans and to protest the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Indigenous Black woman, who fell from her apartment building and died while in the presence of police. Palestinian protesters held signs with pictures of Floyd and Eyad al-Hallaq, a disabled Palestinian shot and killed by Israeli police the same week Floyd died. The police killings of Black people in the U.S. stirred memories of 24-year-old Adama Traoré, a Black Parisian who died in police custody in 2016.
Protesters throughout the world are also highlighting the ways in which contemporary forms of state violence, including policing itself, are legacies of enslavement and colonialism. In the U.S., nearly 40 statues and memorials dedicated to the Confederacy and racist leaders have been dismantled, defaced, decapitated, toppled and designated for removal as a result of the unrest.
Demonstrators in the U.K. tore down the statue of English slave trader Edward Colston in jubilation and rolled it into the river. In Belgium, masked demonstrators stood on the base of a statue of King Léopold II, whose colonial regime was responsible for millions of Congolese deaths, and chanted “murderer” while waving a Democratic Republic of Congo flag.
These actions to tear down the symbols of colonialism and slavery underscore arguments that anti-racists, reparations advocates and abolitionists have long argued — a historical reckoning must accompany deep structural change. And these protests suggest that this confrontation with history will have to be on the terms of Black people, Indigenous people and other people of color (BIPOC).
It is important to recognize how some of these global protests might be products of the U.S. development and globalization of police tactics pioneered in military and counterinsurgency campaigns in Latin America, Vietnam and the Philippines, as historian Stuart Schrader analyzes in his book, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing. International police exchange programs in the U.S. are latest examples of this trend as law enforcement officials from the U.S., Israel and other countries train each other in police tactics.
While 1960s Black radicals in the U.S. argued they were victims of “internal colonialism,” it seems that many BIPOC are seeing themselves as tied together by methods of 21st-century methods of policing and counterterrorism.
As we move into the third week of protests, calls to redirect peoples’ energies to electoral politics and institutional reform will grow louder from pundits.
While it is important to address the ways that police can harm Black people in the U.S. immediately, the global nature of this revolt presents an opportunity for activists to build upon the transnational connections past organizers have forged.
This is a moment for more Americans to study the transnational connections of policing and state violence in an effort to forge a common anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle. We need more global protests as well as gatherings to devise ways to eradicate the scourge of state violence that disproportionately affects BIPOC throughout the world. As scholar-activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said, “The abolitionist future … has to be internationalist, because that is the only way that we’ll stop drawing the borders that regularize between and among people.”
Over the last two weeks, protesters abroad are saying the names of those who have fallen to state violence in the U.S. Throngs of multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multinational people have also sought to topple the symbols of enslavement, colonization and imperialism. We in the United States should be saying Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s and Eyad al-Hallaq’s names and amplifying the efforts of people to destroy the vestiges of oppression. The more we engage in these actions and expressions of solidarity, the closer we get to realizing that another world — free of state violence — is possible.