In 2017, Loyola Marymount University carried out a survey where they found that 58% of residents in Los Angeles believed that race-related riots or disturbances like the ones that took place in the city in 1992, would happen again.
The 1992 protests and riots were ignited by the acquittal of five white policemen who had violently beaten Rodney King, an African American construction worker in March the previous year. Since King, there have been numerous cases of white policemen using excessive force on, or even killing, black suspects. On May 25, George Floyd became the latest victim of this pandemic when he died after a policeman restrained him with a knee on the neck. This happened in Minesotta. Within a few days protests had erupted around the US and the world.
Close to 1,500 miles away, in Springfield MA, my family and I attended a George Floyd proteson Friday (May 29). About 500 residents of the city, the biggest in Western MA, gathered outside the Police Department Headquarters in solidarity with Floyd.
The protest was peaceful in a physical sense, but the air was electric. There was so much tangible anger being spewed out in painful questions and viscious expletives.
In 1996, as a student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), I attended my first protests. Listening to student leaders address rally after rally, it suddenly dawned on me that there was always something to protest. Issues which I had been blissfully unaware of in high school, were spelt out to me as a fresh-faced newcomer to higher education.
There were many protests during my time at the UZ. I realized that there were those people who were always ready to drop whatever they were doing to join a protest. There were those who needed some convincing. And there were those who I thought would never attend no matter how much they were harangued and coaxed. And then something would happen, like after a student got shot and I was proven wrong, when even those Unwilling Williams were suddenly invigorated and willing to be a part of the protest.
What is that tipping point that gets a critical mass of people moved enough to act? I don’t know. I don’t think there is a specific number we can put to it. All I know is that people are coming out in their thousands across the United States, and the world, to say that what happened to George Floyd, as has happened to many others before him, was wrong. The numbers are crazy and I am standing here trying to make sense of this as a moment in history. The Unwilling Williams are out on the street too. Is this a tipping point for change?