Police, protests, and the pandemic converge in India, Africa, China and elsewhere

Hong Kong Police Tactical Unit during the 2005 WTO protests. (Photo source: Fuzzheado/Wikimedia Commons)
Hong Kong Police Tactical Unit during the 2005 WTO protests. (Photo source: Fuzzheado/Wikimedia Commons)

The killing of George Floyd has sparked angry protests and violent repression not just in the United States, but around the world, where pandemic lockdowns have also mixed with authoritarian abuses.

Related: “A deadly convergence of racism, brutality and disease across America — and the world”

India: Brutality day by day

India, a multiparty democracy where mass media are free to publish images that do not cast the forces of law and order in a positive light, has been criticized for its “punitive approach to public health,” according to the online forum Open Global Rights.

Social media posts depict beatings and other harassment of India’s citizens by zealous police officers purportedly enforcing stay-at-home measures for the country’s 1.35 billion citizens.

Police spokespeople have downplayed the violence.

“When it’s such a massive exercise, there could be some isolated instances (of violence) here and there … In the process, here and there, there could be some wrongdoing on the part of the police,” an official in Hyderabad told Quartz.

And police brutality in India isn’t something that just started under COVID-19.

As in the United States, police violence has deep roots — only about a quarter of Indians trust the police, who are still governed by the Police Act from the mid-1800s when India was under colonial British rule.

The feeling is mutual — but the deck is stacked against Indian citizens, particularly the poor and minority groups.

According to a study by the Indian advocacy group Common Cause, one in two Indian police personnel think Muslims are more likely to commit crimes and are more “naturally prone” to committing crimes.

Two brutal episodes highlight the racism and classism inherent to India’s police structure.

Videos out of the tea plantations of Assam state in eastern India depict a police officer beating impoverished Adivasi “tea tribe” women, who were violating the national COVID-19 lockdown in order to transport food and firewood.

And in western Gujarat state, a video of police brutally beating eight Dalit (lower caste) teenagers for going to the market to get milk has sparked outrage.

Sources: Quartz, News Laundry, Indian Express

Hong Kong: Profiling and abuse

South Asian migrants in Hong Kong have also been subject to police profiling and abuse, including Pakistanis, Filipinos, and others.

Stop-and-frisk policies, for example, have long targeted foreigners, immigrants and permanent residents in China and Hong Kong, and that hasn’t changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

African immigrants in the Chinese city of Guangzhou are also struggling with xenophobia amidst pandemic outbreaks, including evictions and mass displacement by riot police.

And a new viral video shows Hong Kong police kneeling on the neck of a South Asian man who blacked out and later died.

It has an eerie parallel to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Hong Kong police purportedly called this “appropriate use of force.”

Sources: South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press, ABC News, Boston Globe

Africa: Echoes of America and homegrown oppression

The killing of George Floyd has sparked rage and resentment in Africa, where many people still remember the shocking police murder of Guinean emigre Amadou Diallo in New York City in 1999.

Diallo, a 23-year-old migrant, was shot 19 times outside his apartment by police officers who say they mistook him for a rape suspect.

But African nations themselves are also hotbeds of police brutality, nowhere more starkly than Nigeria, where an efficient COVID-19 response has resulted in the disease affecting the country less than a wave of violent attacks on citizens by police and other security forces.

In one such incident, police in the megacity of Lagos shot and killed a bus driver who violated the pandemic curfew, and in the process also killed an innocent bystander — an indigenous girl named Tina from Imo state.

Now, the hashtag #JusticeforTina is trending on Twitter, and numerous Nigerians are calling for reform of the Nigeria Police Force. 

And in Kenya, by late April, after a month of restrictions on public activity, police had already killed at least six people, including a 13-year old boy who was shot in the stomach, and a tomato vendor who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister.

In fact, human rights advocates say there are investigations of 20 cases of police killings in Kenya related to the enforcement of pandemic curfews.

According to critics, much of this violence tends to happen in poor neighborhoods.

Sources: Quartz, Wikipedia, BBC News, Punch (Nigeria), Al Jazeera (NGO criticism), Al Jazeera (U.N. criticism)

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