Statement on racism and police brutality in light of George Floyd’s murder

  • post Type / Resolutions and statements
  • Date / 4 June 2020

We are heartbroken and outraged to witness the murder of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer in the United States. George Floyd’s life was taken in broad daylight by a police officer who knelt directly on his neck for 8 minutes, while 3 other officers stood by and did nothing. “Please, I can’t breathe” were his final words.

What happened to George was not the result of a few ‘bad apples’. Systemic racism and police brutality have been defining features of the criminal justice system in the United States since the days of slavery, and allows these heinous crimes to be committed again and again with impunity.

The issue of police terror is unfortunately an issue that black communities have been facing pretty much for the last 400 years. Many people don’t understand that the foundation of policing is actually in slave patrolling. The first law enforcement agencies were out to catch black people who were [fleeing] from slavery.” — Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

No longer can anyone deny what has been obvious for so long: that there are two systems of justice in operation in the United States. One that acts as guardian for the lives and property of middle-class white people, and the other which mercilessly oppresses and terrorises black and brown communities. White privilege has normalised this situation and allowed it to continue for too long. We cannot be silent any longer.

All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.” — bell hooks, author and activist

People everywhere are rightfully angry about this injustice. Protests that began in Minneapolis have now spread to every state in the United States and abroad as well. Citizens of all countries have been encouraged to challenge the structures that safeguard racism and racist ideology within their own communities. It should go without saying that they have a right to express their feelings of rage and grief in peaceful protest without excessive violence being used against them. The use of tear gas – a chemical weapon which is banned from use in warfare under the Geneva Convention – is not only cruel and inhumane, but is deliberately designed to provoke fear and chaos from peaceful crowds.

Humanists stand for the dismantling of racist institutions and an end to abusive policing practices, wherever this may occur. We express our support and solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement and all victims of racist attacks and hate crime, whether perpetrated by state officials or by members of the public. Our commitment to using our global platform to challenge racial injustice is unwavering, and we will continue to do the work to fight for a world in which the racism that killed George Floyd is no longer tolerated.

As a small part of this ongoing mission, we would like to share what some the responses from our member organisations in the United States and the United Kingdom have been. We would also like to share some resources (petitions, links to donate and anti-racism reading), which we have compiled for members looking for additional ways to help or learn more about the systems of institutionalised racism in the United States.

Statements by our Members

Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, said:

“Humanity is and ought to be one family, but racism and racial prejudice sadly endure as a global scourge. In so many states around the world, people are discriminated against, stigmatised, locked up, and killed because of their colour or their ethnicity. The US is not unique in its failings, but that is not a good enough defence. The enlightenment principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, on which the US state is founded, mean that its public authorities should expect to be held to higher standards. Failing to live up to those high standards and promise is not only a concern for its own citizens of goodwill, but for all who hope and work for a world where race will be no barrier to freedom and equal treatment.”

The Board of the American Humanist Association released the following statement:

“In communities across our land, Americans have been expressing their anger and frustration at the systemic racism that pervades our society and manifests itself in police brutality against African Americans, brutality that all too frequently has fatal consequences.

Leaders of both the Left and the Right are quick to invoke the rule of law to condemn violence on the streets. But a nation where the president is allowed to flout the rule of law without consequence while the most marginalized are held disproportionately to account is a nation that is on its way to being a democracy in name only. Widely documented physical attacks by police during the last few days on journalists covering the protests are yet another sign of the dangers that our democracy faces when leaders prioritize dividing Americans and consolidating their grip on power over safeguarding human rights.

As Martin Luther King said in his Other America speech at Stanford in 1967: “…[A] riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? …it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. …Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

Humanism and social justice go hand in hand. We call on all humanists and all Americans to do everything in their power to stand and fight the systemic racism in American society and the police brutality that is engendered by that systemic racism.”

Statement from American Atheists President Nick Fish:

“My heart breaks for the family and loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many more Americans whose lives have been stolen from them. I’m disgusted by the continued violence and brutality that Black members of our communities endure at the hands of law enforcement. Officers are supposed to be protecting us all, but too often they resort to dangerously aggressive responses that disproportionately target Black, Latino, and other communities of color.

This weekend’s protests in response to those murders—and to decades of injustice—have been met with countless examples of police officers using excessive force, targeting journalists and peaceful demonstrators, and escalating confrontation as a pretext to arrest protesters demanding reform.

Elected officials and civil leaders must do more to recognize and address the racism and systemic biases that pervade our criminal justice system, end the militarization of our nation’s police forces, and ensure accountability for members of law enforcement who erode trust with their repeated and extreme uses of force. This weekend’s demonstrations are the result of years of failed promises to address long-standing biases that have cost countless lives.

I stand with the members of our community who have peacefully protested against this racism and violence. I call on politicians and leaders in law enforcement to ensure that the constitutional right of all Americans to peaceably assemble is protected, to de-escalate confrontations, and listen to the voices of those demanding reform.”

Statement from the Norwegian Humanist Association: 

“The Norwegian Humanist Association supports #BlackLivesMatter.

The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, USA, has brought renewed attention to the unequal treatment of ethnic minorities in the United States. To countries everywhere, this serves as a reminder of the importance of equality and human rights for all.

No state or society can truly say that there is no systemic racism or groups of citizens that are treated worse than others. Unequal treatment differs from case to case, country to country, and over time. However, it particularly affects people belonging to a minority. Their human rights are thus violated.

Although systematic racism occurs less frequently in Norway than in the USA today, there is no doubt that we still have some way to go. There are daily reports in the media of everyday racism, the comment sections in social media are full of accusations of inferiority, and traits are attributed to citizens based on the color of their skin.

Our humanist lifestance promotes equality for all. The commitment to fight racism, oppression and forces that undermine democracy, form part of our humanist values. That is why the Norwegian Humanist Association is working towards an inclusive, diverse and future-oriented society.

The Norwegian Humanist Association demands that the Norwegian authorities express their strong concerns to the American authorities about the human rights situation of ethnic minorities in the United States.

Furthermore, the Norwegian Humanist Association demands that the Norwegian authorities investigate, follow up and correct systematic racism, unequal treatment, and discrimination against minority groups in Norway.

The Norwegian Humanist Association supports the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA and their fight for human rights.”

Statement from the Humanist Union of Greece:

“The Humanist Union of Greece (HUG) supports the joint appeal to the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international commission of inquiry with the necessary authority to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States made yesterday by the Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of assembly and association; and the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. HUG agrees with them that “failure to establish an international commission of inquiry would signal that black lives do not matter, or that if they do, they do not matter enough to mobilize the Human Rights Council to intervene where it should.”

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