In many parts of the world, the death of yet another Black man at the hands of police in the United States is setting off mass protests against police brutality and reviving concerns that America is abandoning its traditional role as a defender of human rights.
On the streets of Berlin and Vancouver, British Columbia, in halls of power in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Beijing, a chorus of criticism has erupted alongside the unrest in the United States over the death of George Floyd. Floyd, 46, died last week after he was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer in Minneapolis. The officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck has been charged with murder.
Paired with the global anger at police violence in some U.S. cities has been another demand: that lawmakers heed the signs of racism and police abuse in their own countries.
In London, thousands of demonstrators gathered around the moated U.S. Embassy in defiance of stay-at-home coronavirus restrictions and chanted Floyd’s name, “I can’t breathe” and “No justice, no peace,” before making their way to Grenfell Tower. The building was the site of a devastating fire in 2017 that killed many Arab, Muslim and African residents. On a memorial at the base of the tower, a protester wrote, “Black Lives Matter.”
LONDON PROTEST TODAY! pic.twitter.com/i1NSfzjMTH
— maisy. (@darlingmaisy) May 31, 2020
In Toronto, calls to end American racism merged with outrage at the recent death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, 29, a Black woman who police said fell from her balcony after officers arrived at her home in response to reports of a “domestic incident.”
And in Paris, among those calling for a demonstration was the family of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old Black man who died in custody in 2016 after being tackled and pinned down by police in the Paris suburbs. La Vérité Pour Adama, or “the truth for Adama,” an advocacy group led by Traoré’s sister, Assa, said Floyd’s death was a chilling reminder of Traoré’s.
“How can one not think of Adama’s terrible suffering when he had three police officers on him and he was repeating, ‘I can’t breathe’,” the group wrote on Facebook last week. “His name was George Floyd, who just like Adama died because they were Black.”
C'est une grande douleur pour nous de partager ces images. Comment ne pas penser à la terrible SOUFFRANCE d'Adama, qui…
Beyond local instances of racism and police violence, the widespread condemnation also reflected growing unease about America’s rapidly eroding moral authority on the world stage. President Donald Trump already faces criticism across the globe for a response to the coronavirus pandemic that has led the United States to relinquish its longtime role as a global leader in times of crisis.
Now the death of Floyd has brought protests to at least 140 U.S. cities, turning many into tear gas-filled battlefields. Images of police officers and protesters engaged in heated street fights have spread swiftly across social media sites around the world, drawing furious comments and calls for action.
In Berlin, thousands of demonstrators held a peaceful protest outside of the U.S. Embassy on Saturday, some carrying signs that read, “Stop Killing Us,” and graffiti artists sprayed Floyd’s image on a remaining stretch of the wall that divided the city for decades during the Cold War. Two players in Germany’s top soccer league — English forward Jadon Sancho and French striker Marcus Thuram — made gestures of support after Floyd’s death as part of goal celebrations during matches Sunday.
In Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, the target of a monthslong offensive by the Syrian government to seize control from opposition forces, two artists painted a mural on the shell of a ruined building that read “I Can’t Breathe” and “No to Racism.”
For America’s rivals, the tensions have provided an opportunity to deflect attention from their own problems.
In China, where officials have chafed at Trump’s criticism of how they handled the coronavirus outbreak, the state-run news media heavily featured reports about Floyd’s death and portrayed the protests as another sign of America’s decline. The violent protests were covered extensively in the news media and on the social media platform Weibo. “BunkerBoy” became a trending topic after reports that Secret Service agents rushed Trump to a bunker Friday night as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the White House.
Pierre Haski, a noted French journalist, commented on France Inter on Monday: “Beijing could not have hoped for a better gift. The country that designates China as the culprit of all evils is making headlines around the world with the urban riots.”
When a U.S. official Saturday attacked the ruling Communist Party on Twitter for moving to impose national security legislation to quash dissent in Hong Kong, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government fired back with a popular refrain among U.S. protesters.
“‘I can’t breathe,’ ” the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, wrote on Twitter.
"I can't breathe." pic.twitter.com/UXHgXMT0lk
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) May 30, 2020
In Iran, Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, accused the United States of hypocrisy. He posted a doctored screenshot of a 2018 statement by U.S. officials condemning Iran for corruption and injustice. In his version, the references to Iran were replaced with America.
“Some don’t think #BlackLivesMatter,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Some don't think #BlackLivesMatter.
To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 30, 2020
The European Union said Monday that it hoped “all the issues related to the protests in the U.S. will be settled swiftly and in full respect for the rule of law and human rights.” The statement, emailed by a spokesman for the European Commission, was an unusual comment from the body on U.S. affairs. The commission, the executive arm of the 27-nations bloc, which has close trade and political ties with the United States, usually reserves this type of language for violent breakdowns in nations with few democratic or human rights safeguards.
“We regret the loss of life, express our condolences to those affected and condemn violence and racism regardless of where it comes from,” the statement added.