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Comment: The US must finally face racism

The images are terrifying, but not surprising: police cars burning, shops destroyed, police officers forcing civilians to the ground and demonstrators marching on inexorably.

The video, which shows an African American struggling for his life under the weight of a white police officer kneeling on him, is horrific and shocking - but such images are not new to the United States. They are reminiscent of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Or Los Angeles in 1992, where the violence against Rodney King sparked riots. The current images are also reminiscent of police violence and lynching during the civil rights movement. The US has seen it all so many times.

The mass protests grasp the nation in a time of crisis. The corona pandemic killed more than 100,000 people there - over 30 million Americans became unemployed as a result. The country is torn by the wage and income gaps and by the political polarization that has reached a new high under US President Donald Trump, it feels like the US has reached a border. The country's future appears uncertain and bleak.

Racism doesn't take a break

While the US began lockdown due to the corona crisis, most of the signs of normal everyday life disappeared. What did not go away were the fundamental and structural problems in the country. One of them is the racism anchored in the system, of which there have been numerous examples in the past few months.

In February, a video posted on the Internet showed a young black man in Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by two white civilians while jogging. Another video showed a white woman in Central Park, New York, threatening a black man with the police and then calculating when the police called and mentioned that the "attacker" was an African American. However, the man hadn't attacked her at all. He had only come to the park to watch birds and asked the woman to abide by the park rules and to leash her free-running dog.

Another consequence of systematic racism is the fact that the People of Color death rate from COVID-19 is proportionally higher than that of white Americans. But: White demonstrators protested against the lockdown in several US states, occupied regional government seats, yelled at police officers, intimidated them and even spat at them - and were attacked with kid gloves by the security forces.

Polarization blocks progress

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged in 2013 in response to widespread violence against African Americans and people of color. "Black lives count" is their motto. The answer was not long in coming: other groups popularized the slogan "All Lives Matter". Their message: The USA has long since overcome racism and skin color no longer plays a role. "Blue Lives Matter" is used by those who see police officers as heroes and believe that criticism of security officers for the use of force is unjustified

DW editor Jenipher Gonzalez

Unsurprisingly, the latter two slogans are mostly used by more conservative white Americans. Polls consistently show that core Republican constituencies, whites and seniors, trust the police more than other groups. Only a minority of Hispanic, African-American, young people, and Democrats share this trust.

The division of the country according to demographics, skin color and origin reached a new high in 2020. Opportunistic politicians like Donald Trump ensure that it stays that way. His choice is a direct result of polarization and the culture wars. The rigid opposing positions prevent any progress and make America more susceptible to riot and violence in the streets.

The indifference must end

Statistics show it, studies explain it, and videos like George Floyd's show it: African Americans are disproportionately targeted by the police. And yet, many white Americans cannot and will not admit that the judicial system and the police protect them themselves and that they benefit from them. It is also difficult to see that racism is deeply rooted in society and that state structures urgently need to be reformed to serve all citizens equally.

The only reason these reforms and reconciliation have not yet taken place is the inability of white America to come to terms with its own privileges and show compassion for minorities. But they are needed for a solution. Minorities in the US cannot alone change a system that disadvantages them. If you look back in history, blacks in the USA could only bring about far-reaching changes if they had the support of white citizens.

The indifference of white Americans must stop. But is that possible at a time when people are becoming more and more separated from each other? The challenge has never been so great and it has never been so urgent to face it.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this comment incorrectly stated that Michael Brown was killed in 2015 and that the Black Lives Matter movement was founded in the same year.