For an excruciating eight minutes and 46 seconds, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the neck of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, unmoved even by the dying man’s plea: “I can’t breathe.”
Those anguished gasps from Mr Floyd are a haunting reminder of the final words of another African American, Eric Garner, who died in July 2014 after being held in a chokehold by a New York officer. Fire and fury have since erupted across the United States, a country brought to breaking point by centuries of racial injustice that now frequently manifest in heavy-handed police tactics.
The outrage that has now spilt over US borders, sparking protests in other parts of the world, come 157 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in the US, 55 years since the end of Jim Crow and 52 years since the civil rights movement.
T&T has become swept up in that global outrage and it has exposed our inability to fully embrace a rainbow nation identity. Although that title was bestowed on T&T by two influential religious leaders, the late Pope John Paul II and Bishop Desmond Tutu, its importance still eludes us.
In a population of 1.4 million, where about 25 per cent are of mixed heritage, there is still a great deal of work to be done to erase the prejudices, driven mostly by fear and ignorance, that are never far out of sight.
It is an uncomfortable, even painful, reality that must be faced
Yesterday, a swiftly deleted social media post followed by an apology from a local business, underscored the extent to which T&T still struggles to manage its diversity. This is still a country ill-equipped to confront the prejudices that are always there, just beneath the surface, threatening to erupt at the drop of a pin.
That racial divide is most plainly displayed in T&T politics, particularly during election seasons---and one is upon us right now. During political campaigning, almost every aspect of life takes on racial bias. Across social media platforms and on radio talk shows, the accusations fly fast and furious, with one group pointing fingers at another for fomenting the racial divide.
Eight days of rising rage in the US, not quelled by tear gas or rubber bullets, are a frightening reminder of the dangers that lurk when racism and other forms of discrimination are left to fester.
True racial harmony, in a way that can withstand cultural and political shocks, is a national goal yet to be attained. T&T is still to live up to its promise to be a society where every creed and race fully embraces the idea of multiculturalism.
Unfortunately, political leaders have consistently failed this nation, reluctant to venture beyond lip service and window dressing for fear of electoral consequences. Societal rifts will remain and may even widen if no efforts are made to bridge this divide.
The events in the US should serve as a warning that continuing along divisive paths will be to our detriment.