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Police violence against black people - "In the USA, a black life is worth less than a white one"

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The death of the African American George Floyd, who was killed by a white police officer during a police operation in Minneapolis, has rekindled the debate about racism in the USA. Historian Jürgen Martschukat has been researching the North American history of violence for years. He says: The order in the USA is dominated by white and racist.

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Jürgen Matschukat is Professor of North American History at the German University of Erfurt, the link will open in a new window. His research interests include cultural history, the history of violence and gender history.

SRF News: According to a US study, one in every thousand black men in the US is killed by the police. Does a black life count less than a white life in the USA?

Jürgen Martschukat: Yes. In my opinion, the arbitrariness and this excess can only be explained in this way. The Obama presidency seems to have fueled this. In many white circles the tenor has established itself that blacks must be given their place again. We know that from history: The high points of violence often came after the successes of the civil rights movement, for example after the abolition of slavery.

There are also many more black people contracting Covid-19 in the United States. Why is this so strong with this danger to black life?

The Covid 19 crisis speaks for the significant economic and social disadvantage of very many African Americans, who are extremely present despite the emergence of a black middle class. Being black usually means being poorer and having fewer resources. After slavery, there was the time of segregation, this American form of apartheid. This meant that African Americans were hardly present in the political and legal system and were extremely disadvantaged. That went on for a long time.

In many white circles the tenor has established itself that blacks must be given their place again.

How do you explain that?

I mean, racism is that one phenomenon, that is, the attempt to divide populations. Structures are very important here. Then I believe that this connection, which is often made, of being black, is firstly less valuable and secondly - for men - dangerous, is extremely persistent and is obviously confirmed again and again in this system. And in recent years there has been an extreme political polarization. The people who are at the forefront of politics don't necessarily do anything about it. That is a sum of factors that are firmly inscribed in social thinking.

The police culture is a little different in the US than in Europe. What role does it play in the attacks on black people?

The police in the USA often show extremely martial behavior. And there is a strong corps spirit. As a result, violence and racism in the police are repeatedly covered up.

We have known for years that police work works much better if it doesn't come across as an occupying power that is still dominated by white.

What we also often see is that the composition of the police force hardly matches the ethnic composition of the population. We have known for years that police work works much better if it does not come across as an occupying power that is still dominated by white. But the police seem to see their function largely in maintaining order. And this order is dominated by white and racist.

History is dark, the present not much brighter either. Do you see any prospect of positive development anywhere?

I don't want to stop believing in it. Also because we have to support the commitment of the people who fight for it every day. “Black Lives Matter”, for example, is a very present and important organization. But sometimes you have serious doubts. Sometimes hope disappears.

The interview was conducted by Isabelle Maissen.

The new “News Plus” podcast

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This interview is from the new “News Plus” podcast. Individual topics of the day are specifically classified in an understandable manner. The podcast is intended to depict the discussion from social media and thus makes reference to feedback from the audience. "News Plus" appears from Monday to Friday before 4 p.m.

Podcast “News Plus”, May 28, 2020, 4:00 p.m.

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  • Comment from Drago Stanic (drago stanic)
    We are talking about a country where parents as early as 10 years old learn how to talk to the police in order not to be shot. We're talking about a country where police squadrons kill 3 people a day. We're talking about a country where 2,000,000 are in jail. We're talking about a country that has 30,000 gun kills annually. We are talking about a country where 60,000,000 people depend on folk cuisine. And then there are people here in Switzerland who still admire this country?
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Marti Müller (Co2 = life)
    The number of black deaths in gang shootings cannot be compared with those in police operations. Of course, this terrible act should not be repeated.
    Of course, rioting is sure to bring only bad things.
    Agree agree to the comment
    1. answer from Lucy Meier (LucyM)
      That may well be the case, which is why it is far from okay for police officers to kill for no objective reason. And what you call "riot" here are legitimate demonstrations. The fact that emotions and anger are involved is certainly not a good thing, but it is absolutely understandable.
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. answer from Zona Dernjani (Zona)
      Does this statement correspond to your personal perception or do you have sources to show? Do you know that POCs are systematically criminalized in the US? Do you think it appropriate to dictate to this community in what form their demonstrations or riots are appropriate? Do you know that the black population in the US is only 13% but that over 1/4 of them are in prisons? Do you know what dangers POC's life is exposed to? Do you understand statistics?
      Agree agree to the comment
    3. Show answers
  • Comment from Drago Stanic (drago stanic)
    Why is nobody here talking about sanctioning the USA? Targeted killing of people of different skin color must be punished. Even today demonstrators would be driven away with rubber bullets and tear gas. Nobody here is talking about freedom for free assembly. Just shameful that one has to access foreign media to see how brutally the USA is driving out protesters. And transantlantic people are silent as always when it comes to the USA.
    Agree agree to the comment
    1. answer from Mihai Löchli (Transylvania)
      "Protesters set fire to buildings and cars" is the title of "20 minutes" tonight. Should the police counter this with flowers?
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. answer from Manuela Fitzi (Mano)
      There we are. So the ignited cars are to blame. Sorry Drago, but the stupidest thing any stakeholder can do is destroy someone else's property. It is obvious that this does not make them more popular and does not appear to be an intelligent negotiating partner.
      Agree agree to the comment
    3. answer from Marti Müller (Co2 = life)
      It was not "counted" killed
      Agree agree to the comment
    4. answer from Drago Stanic (drago stanic)
      But it would be deliberately killed. Others was black.
      Agree agree to the comment
    5. answer from Max Baumann (supervisor)
      Logical, because in the West the US is still seen as the good guys. They are allowed to start wars with impunity, impose sanctions on those who do not do what the USA wants! In order to distract from this, people are beaten up from China. By the way, have they started wars of annihilation like the USA in Vietnam and the Middle East?
      Agree agree to the comment
    6. answer from Hans-Ulrich Rechsteiner (Rechi)
      Mr. Baumann, yes the Chinese have. Just ask the Vietnamese. Inquire about the 1000 Years War between China and Vietnam. Why do you think the Vietnamese hate the Chinese, far more than the Americans? There are still daily skirmishes around the Paracellsus and Spratley Islands.
      Agree agree to the comment
    7. Show answers

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