The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, acted as a catalyst for Black Lives Matter protests around the nation. Floyd’s viral execution forced many Americans to reflect on the nation’s history of anti-Black violence and racism while simultaneously combating a global pandemic. Due to a history of systemic racism, discrimination, and racist ideologies embedded in American society, justice for Black people has been rare and hard to come by. While Black Lives Matter has become a global movement and has brought awareness to injustices Black communities face in the United States, transgressions (such as anti-Blackness and police brutality) are equally prevalent beyond U.S. borders.
In the past year, several countries have condemned the U.S. for its mistreatment of Black people, poor race relations, police violence, and expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Yet, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor resonated not only with Black Americans, but also with Black citizens of France, the U.K., and other nations guilty of similar abhorrent acts. In France, George Floyd’s death was compared to the case of a 24-year-old Black man, Adama Traoré, who died while in police custody in France in 2016. Civil outrage, protests, and riots ensued. Like George Floyd, Traoré was handcuffed by police while he lay face-down saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Similarities can also be drawn from their medical reports. The day of Traoré’s murder, he was in a Paris suburb accompanied by his older brother. Traoré did not have his identification card in his possession and when approached by police officers, he ran. Traoré died while in police custody, after being chased and handcuffed while lying chest down and detained. In the case of George Floyd, the Hennepin County medical examiner’s report stated Floyd had other significant conditions such as hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication, and methamphetamine use. Similarly, official reports of Adama Traoré’s death suggested he died of heart failure caused by other significant or underlying health conditions. However, another autopsy requested by Traoré’s family indicated his death was caused by the police’s actions.
Parallels with George Floyd’s death reignited the anger that French citizens felt toward Adama Traoré’s murder, leading to massive Black Lives Matter protests in the country. Black French citizens’ reactions articulated outrage, desperation, and a sense of being fed up. Further, it portrayed Black people’s fight against oppression, racism, and police brutality as a global issue. Traoré’s sister, Assa Traoré, reaffirmed an internationally connected, common Black struggle by stating, “This fight is no longer just the fight of the Traoré family, it’s everyone’s struggle.”
As the world watched Derek Chauvin’s trial, global citizens hoped for a guilty verdict. Although Chauvin was convicted, many Black people felt justice had yet to be fulfilled. They question the value of one guilty verdict as numerous murderers have escaped imprisonment with the help of a badge and a uniform. Like the police officers who murdered Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Adama Traoré, they were not convicted of their crimes.
Injustice, racism, and police brutality in Europe are not limited to France’s borders; they have a long-lasting history in Britain as well. Though Britain passed the Race Relations Act that banned discrimination based on color, race, or ethnic origins in 1965, racism in Britain is still present in its criminal justice system. Britain’s former prime minister, Theresa May, recognized that “if you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.” British residents have marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and their Black brothers and sisters in the United States because Black residents share a similar fate as they are over nine times as likely to be searched by the police and more than three times as likely to be arrested than whites.
Additionally, in the report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, evidence shows that Black British residents are twice as likely to die in police custody than whites. In 1998, Christopher Alder, a 37-year-old Black resident, died while in police custody from being choked, lying face down, while handcuffed on the floor of a police station. Initially, like in the case of George Floyd, no one was charged for Alder’s murder. The officers involved in this horrendous act alleged that 12 minutes had passed before they noticed a problem. After being shown video evidence of Alder lying down, coughing blood, and the officers laughing, Alder’s death was determined an unlawful killing by an inquest jury in 2001.
Despite the misconduct and manslaughter charges brought against the officers, they were acquitted on all charges in 2002. In the 2006 report of the Review Into the Events Leading Up to and Following the Death of Christopher Alder, Nick Hardwick, former chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, suggested race, in part, impacted Adler’s death as he stated, “The fact he was black stacked the odds more heavily against him.” Another British victim of anti-Black police violence that has been mentioned amongst Black Lives Matter protesters in Britain is Mark Duggan. In 2011, Duggan, a 29-year-old unarmed Black resident, was shot and killed by police. Due to the confusion, controversy, and speculation that surrounded the case, Duggan’s death led to one of the worst mass uprisings and civil disturbances in British history.
As Volker Berghahn argues, the rise of Americanization, or the influence of America’s “economic-technological and political developments” along with “ideology, values, and cultural [and] intellectual interaction,” has brought global attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and injustices toward Black bodies in the United States. Although Americanization has allowed the world to mourn for Black Americans who have lost their lives to anti-Black violence, it has at times overshadowed Black persons living outside the United States who suffer similar fates. In a 1965 address entitled “Not Just an American Problem, but a World Problem,” Malcolm X stated that Black people were victims of oppression, brutality, and racism nationally and internationally. To understand the injustices and discrimination of Black people at a local level, he argued, it was imperative to be aware of such issues globally. Historian Marc Matera has also explained how solidarity developed between people of African descent and created the “Global black community” through shared experiences of racism and anti-Blackness.
Across borders, criminal justice systems unduly target Black men, who are overly represented in the United States, British, and Caribbean prison populations. As Malcolm X said, systemic racism, oppression, and brutality toward Black people were not simply American problems but were, in fact, world problems. Fifty-five years later, his words still hold true as these issues continue to endure. The murder of George Floyd, Adama Traoré, Mark Duggan, and countless others due to anti-Blackness and police brutality has forced both Americans and Europeans to reflect on their history of oppression toward Black citizens and how the current pandemic compounded that oppression. Through protest, riots, social media, and 24-hour news coverage, the death of George Floyd and anti-Black state violence more generally gained global attention. As outrage and Black Lives Matter protests sparked around the world, their response shows us that despite geographic locations, Black people share common histories. They are fighting a global battle against anti-Blackness. Most of all, regardless of national boundaries, Black people are exclaiming that Black lives matter everywhere.
When studying Black internationalism, several scholars such as Monique Bedasse, Kim D. Butler, Carlos Fernandes, and others remind us that solely centering the African American perspective is problematic as “there is no single center from which it was diffused to other spaces.” Centering injustices against African Americans and racism in the United States allows us to ignore the Black freedom struggle as a continuous global fight. When we engage with Black internationalism, diverse Black geographic spaces should be considered. By articulating multiple geographies of Black internationalism through highlighting issues such as anti-Blackness and carcerality outside of the United States, we may gain deeper understandings of their intertwined histories and aid in sparking local, national, and transnational change.