African immigrants were among hundreds who turned out at a peaceful protest against racism and police brutality in Franklin Township in New Jersey last weekend.
African leaders in the United States are speaking out on the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. There have been condemnations and calls for action throughout the African community against police brutality, particularly towards black men. The death of George Floyd has triggered a nationwide protest that spread to various countries across the globe.
Hadja Ramatu Ahmed, who heads the New York City-based Africa Life Center, an organization that helps Africans in the United States to access essential services such as housing and health care said seeing George Floyd cuffed, being pinned to the ground and struggling to breath was disturbing to watch.
“That police [officer] must have heard Floyd taking his last breaths while he had his knee on his neck. He intentionally killed George Floyd. He ignored his pleas, waited for him to die before he took his knee off his neck,” Ahmed said.
She said she felt paralyzed when she heard the dying Floyd calling on his mother for help. “It makes a mother thinks of her son, helplessly dying. That moment sent a disturbing and troubling feeling to all mothers,” the Ghanaian American said.
A call for unity among black leaders
Ahmed believes there has always been a cordial relationship between African American leaders and their African immigrant counterparts.
She recalled that African Americans, including the prominent Reverand Al Sharpton, stood by the African community after police killed African immigrants such as Amadou Diallo and Ousmane Zongo in New York, Mubarak Soulemane in Connecticut, and Alfred Olango in California. There is a need for such relationships to be further strengthened, she stressed.
She added that black leaders everywhere, from Africa to the Caribbean, must acknowledge that the struggle of African Americans against racism is their struggle and their responsibility, too.
“Black leadership everywhere must now send a clear and sustained message that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated anymore,” Ahmed said.
Bakary Tandia, who is a co-founder of the Abolition Institute of Human Rights, an organization that focuses on combating modern-day slavery and human trafficking, also said that there has been a long-standing relationship between African American leaders and their African counterparts.
Tandia, from Mauritania, resides in New York City. He said African American civil rights leaders have a history of involvement in Africa’s struggles against colonialism and neocolonialism and exploitation and that they continue to stand for the African continent.
In the United States, some of them have played mentorship and advisory role for their African counterparts. “There is almost no distinction between the two communities,” he said.
In the same vein, there is a common thread that links the hatred and discrimination of black people everywhere, “because the root causes are the same,” he continued.
Tandia said the inhuman actions by American police have far-reaching effects beyond the United States.
African victims of police brutality
Uganda-born human rights activist Arao Ameny said institutional and systemic racism in the United States target all blacks regardless of their background. Ameny called on African immigrants in the United States to stand up and let their voices be heard: “As Black immigrants, we should be aware that we are not special in the eyes of rouge law enforcement.”
The Maryland resident said lawless and racist police do not check for passports or accents or ask how many languages and dialects one speaks. “They see black skin, claim they feel threatened, and just shoot,” the Ugandan immigrant said.
Ameny recalled the murders of some black African immigrants at the hands of police in the US, including a former friend of hers, Alfred Olango, who also was from Uganda. Olango was living in California when El Cajon police shot and killed him on September 27, 2016.
Before he was shot, the Ugandan immigrant had needed medical attention. His family called for help and when police arrived, they shot and killed the 38-year-old several times, and he died in hospital a day later.
Mubarak Soulemane was of Ghanaian descent. He was 19 years old when he was shot and killed in West Haven, Connecticut on January 15, 2020.
Police alleged he stole a car and fled from them at high at speeds. The New Jersey state trooper who shot him claimed he saw Soulemane with a knife after stopping the car. Family and friends said Soulemane was suffering from schizophrenia.
Ghanaian immigrant Mohammed Mardah, chairman of the African Advisory Council in New York, said Africans cannot sit back in complacency in the face of police brutality against African Americans throughout the United States.
Mardah recalled the killings of Amadou Diallo in February 1999 and Ousmane Zongo in 2003, among others.
The 23-year-old Diallo was a Guinean immigrant. He was shot 41 times by four NYPD police officers. One of the officers claimed he mistook him for a rape suspect a year earlier. Thirty-seven-year-old Ousmane Zongo was from Burkina Faso. He too was killed by NYPD officer during a warehouse raid.
“When it comes to blacks, racist police officers in America first see skin color and then assume guilt, even before they get to know the suspect, be they African Americans, Africans, or others,” Mardah said.
Mardah urged Africans throughout the United States who would be protesting to do so peacefully and not engaged in violence or any other act of lawlessness.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
African immigrants were among hundreds who turned out at a peaceful protest against racism and police brutality in Franklin Township in New Jersey last weekend. Abdul Hardy Gabisi, the Secretary-General of the Sierra Leone Community of New Jersey, an umbrella organization of civil groups and nonprofit organizations, was among the protesters.
Gabisi said the investigation that took place after Floyd’s death was, “for the most part, justice denied.” Gabisi described Floyd’s death and the initial autopsy report as very troubling: “With all this colossal evidence that shows gross police unprofessionalism and excessive force, it is time for real justice to be served.”
Gabisi is also the Secretary of Da’Awatul Islamia, the biggest African Muslim mosque in North America. He said it is ironic that the United States, known globally for boasting human rights and equality, now finds itself so entangled in the web of racism and police brutality.
He said the United States’ mantle of championing democracy and showing empathy to humanity all over the world “should be upheld much so to its citizenry. Otherwise, [American] leadership in the world will become highly questionable.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has charged all four former police officers who are involved in George Floyd’s murder.
Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck is charged with second-degree murder, an upgrade from the third-degree murder change he initially received.
The other three accomplices — Thomas Lane; Alexander Kueng, who helped restrain the dying Floyd; and Tou Thao, who was standing by — are now charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.