Today will see what are presented as Black Lives Matter protests in Australian cities and elsewhere. Protesters will be remembering the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murder. His three associates face somewhat lesser charges.
A driving factor in some of these marches will be members of the extreme left. Consequently, it seems likely that Republican President Donald Trump will be a target of at least some demonstrators. Yet Floyd’s killing has nothing to do with Australia, nor does the political leadership in the US.
There has always been a derived nature to the Australian left. In the 1960s and 70s, those who protested against Australia’s military commitment in Vietnam invariably adopted the stance of the left in the US. Sure, the Australian left was not as violent as its American counterpart. Otherwise it looked and sounded much the same. Likewise today.
The Black Lives Matter cause was born in the US — today it lives on Australian streets.
Likewise the modern incarnation of the Antifa movement, the self-proclaimed anti-fascist organisation, took root in the US. It, too, now resides in Australia.
In the US the killing of a black man by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has led to nationwide protests, riots and looting with many demonstrators opposing Trump and his administration.
But there was no equivalent reaction in 2014 when African-American Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Sure there was violence after Ferguson. But nothing like that which has occurred after Minneapolis. Democrat Barack Obama was president in August 2014 when Brown was killed; the Republican Trump is President today.
David Smith is an academic at the University of Sydney’s taxpayer-funded United States Studies Centre. The USSC’s chief executive, Simon Jackman, told Sky News in 2016 that no one in his organisation supported Trump.
So it came as no surprise that, when appearing on his “Trump Tuesday” slot on ABC Radio 702 this week, Smith bagged the Trump administration while failing to mention that Minnesota has a Democratic governor and Minneapolis has a Democratic mayor. This is not Trump country, but Trump is being blamed for Floyd’s death. Missouri has a Republican governor and Ferguson has a Republican mayor. Obama was not blamed for Brown’s death.
On Tuesday, Radio National Drive presenter Patricia Karvelas interviewed Barbara Heineback who resides in Australia. She is the first African-American woman to serve as a press officer to a first lady — in this case Rosalynn Carter.
Heineback is concerned about her people who have suffered because of the riots, looting and the like. She depicted Antifa as “made up of individuals who have contributed nothing to society, nothing to America” and added that it had done nothing to assist the progress that African-Americans had made during the past 20 to 30 years.
Then Heineback surprised the presenter by moving the criticism to Black Lives Matter, stating that “many of the people who march in their marches are up to no good”. Whereupon Karvelas responded: “You’re very critical of Black Lives Matter and, you know, you’re entitled to your view …” and went on to defend the movement.
This was condescending, to say the least. Sure, Heineback is entitled to her view. The point is that Karvelas does not agree with it. Heineback believes that to make a difference Black Lives Matter needs to do more than go up and down the street chanting “No justice, no peace”. She wants to know precisely what Black Lives Matter wants to achieve.
In other words, expressive politics is not enough.
And that’s the issue facing the demonstrations in Australia today. Australia cannot influence the result of the US presidential election in November — irrespective of what anti-Trump protesters may believe.
Moreover, Australia does not have the social divisions that have afflicted the US for centuries and cannot offer advice on this matter.
We did not have a war of independence or a civil war. Moreover, the successful referendum in 1967, to give the commonwealth power to make laws with respect to Aborigines, was an important move towards the recognition of our first peoples.
From time to time Aborigines, like other Australians, have been subjected to police violence. But not on a scale comparable to that in the various American states.
What’s more, the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which was chaired by Elliott Johnston QC and had indigenous representation, found that deaths of Aborigines in custody were not the product of deliberate violence or brutality by police or prison officers.
In an article at ABC News online this week, Four Corners reporter Stephanie March presented a sympathetic view of Antifa in the US — which consists mainly of white left-wing radicals. While acknowledging that the organisation has sometimes resorted to violence, she depicts it as “a loose collective of individuals and groups who in various ways believe they are doing their part to stand up for the oppressed”.
It’s just that many members of minorities who have had their businesses looted and neighbourhoods destroyed because of violence in which Antifa played a role have a different view.
Just ask Heineback, who has seen the impact on the American poor because of previous riots.
The fact is that African-Americans and other minority groups were doing very well in the first three years of the Trump administration — better than during Obama’s time in the White House.
The advent of COVID-19 has temporarily destroyed the US economy — along with that of many other nations. Bad as it is, the death rate from the virus per capita is not as big in the US as in such nations as Belgium.
Yet Trump is being blamed by an essentially hostile media for COVID-19 as well.
The current crisis facing the US cannot be resolved by demonstrations on the streets of American or Australian cities — even though they will make some protesters feel good about themselves.