The Global Legacy Of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protests : Rough Translation Five personal stories from five continents on the global impact of George Floyd.
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The Global Legacy of George Floyd

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The Global Legacy of George Floyd

The Global Legacy of George Floyd

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

You're listening to NPR's ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. What we often do on this show, as you may know, is look at a story or an issue playing out in another country to try to gain a fresh perspective on those same issues in the United States. But what we've seen in the last two weeks...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Black lives matter. Black lives matter.

WARNER: ...Is people all around the world watching what is going on here in the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Black lives...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Matter.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Black lives...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Matter.

WARNER: ...And looking into the mirror at their countries...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Speaking French).

WARNER: ...From Amsterdam to Tokyo...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #3: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

WARNER: ...From Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #4: (Non-English language spoken).

WARNER: It's a moment when people are speaking out, some for the first time. It's also, though, a moment to slow down and listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: And so that's what we're going to do today. With our team of producers and the help of NPR's international correspondents, we asked five people on five continents what this moment means for them in their country, from their perspective.

WANDIA NJOYA: The George Floyd protests give us a legitimate language to articulate what is wrong with police brutality.

WARNER: What does this moment mean for black people in other countries?

LU OLIVEIRA: Like, listen - this isn't an American problem. This is a bigger issue that we need to look at.

WARNER: And how far from Minneapolis will Floyd's life and death be felt?

JULIA AMUA WHAIPOOTI: The power and impact of George Floyd will save lives of my people and my grandchildren.

WARNER: Five stories of George Floyd's emerging international legacy, when ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. I'm Gregory Warner. Today, five stories of George Floyd's emerging legacy around the world. Our first voice comes from Amsterdam.

DON CEDER: People have trouble understanding that there's actually a race problem in the Netherlands. For a long time, the Dutch felt like we were the perfect multicultural society.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CEDER: My name is Don Ceder. I'm 30 years old. And I was born and raised in Amsterdam, where I still live. My father, he's from a country in South America called Suriname. And my mother, she's from Ghana. I'm a lawyer, and I'm a city councilor right now in the city of Amsterdam.

I think I was at the house. I'm frequently on Twitter, so that was the first time where I saw the George Floyd images. And that was just gruesome. I saw George there, but it could have been me. I saw my uncle. I saw my dad. I saw my cousin. And that kind of broke me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CEDER: We have less police violence. That's something that the United States has is something else. But what you do see is that - a more institutional form of racism. I'm just going to give an example. As a lawyer, I came with my client at the court, and my client is a white older guy. And the judge immediately started talking to him for the first two minutes until I interrupted the judge. I said, hey, I'm the lawyer. That's the client. I don't think the judge did that on purpose, but that's showing you, like, how deep this actually is.

For decades, people of color have been asking the Dutch government to apologize for their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And the answer has always been that they feel sorrowful but there's no need to apologize. And it always got brushed off.

WARNER: So Don and some other city council members of color narrowed their focus. Instead of trying to get the national government to apologize, they focused on the city where they actually had some power.

CEDER: Amsterdam, to me - and I think for a lot of people - is the most beautiful place on earth. When you look at it, how people financed those houses and those canals, a lot of it came directly from the profits gained in the slave trade.

WARNER: And this February, they got Amsterdam to agree to apologize. The actual ceremony's been delayed because of the coronavirus to next year. Don says that one reason it's been so much harder to extract an apology from the national government is because of the way that the Dutch make decisions. Everyone has to come to consensus.

CEDER: The political system is set up in a way that, most of the time, it ends up in slow progress because you actually give everybody a little bit of what they want. And therefore, there's a major consensus, and that's how you can move forward. But the downside to that is when you have situations when there's social injustice, when there's inequality, when there's racism - then I think the way of slow progress, that that's not the way. If something is wrong, you need to fix it right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CEDER: I do feel that the protests, not just what's happening in the United States but also that people are standing up in Amsterdam, across the Netherlands and maybe also the firmness and us really pushing the agenda for the apology that it really also made the people in the Cabinet in the government really see and watch, saying, hey, this is something big, and this is not going to go away.

There was a press conference 'cause of the demonstrations in Amsterdam. And the prime minister, who is from a right-wing party, he actually said that there's no denial that there is systemic racism also in the Netherlands. And you might think - well, that's true. But to me, I think this is the first time our prime minister actually acknowledged that in such a way that he actually said it's systemic; you might even say institutional.

And that's something big. I'm hoping it's not empty words that just fade away in a couple of weeks. That's something I'm hoping and I'm striving for as a lawyer, as a city councilman but also as a black person living in Amsterdam.

WARNER: Our next stop is Auckland, New Zealand, which is about as far in miles, at least, as you can get from Minneapolis, Minn. But there are protests there over George Floyd's death, where you can hear the haka, which is an expression of the indigenous Maori people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

WHAIPOOTI: Haka for Maori is - it often gets described as a war challenge. But it's - I think that's a very simplistic description. It's a challenge. That's what it is. But it's not necessarily, like, a challenge to go to war (laughter). It can be used to celebrate. Like, people do them at weddings. People do them at funerals. But people will do them when you feel the moment. Like in that protest that happened in Auckland in recognition of Black Lives Matter, it's a fully supportive and shared solidarity. That's what that is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

WHAIPOOTI: My name's Julia Amua Whaipooti. I'm from a tribe, or iwi, in Aotearoa, New Zealand - Ngati Porou. I'm an Indigenous woman from New Zealand, and I'm pretty out the gate insanely impatient for change. I'm very outspoken about things.

WARNER: Julia is Maori. She's a lawyer and an activist. The Maori and Pacific people make up about 25% of the population of New Zealand. But, she says...

WHAIPOOTI: Sixty-six percent of times that police have fired their guns in the last decade that they have (unintelligible) have been on Maori and Pacific people. And those underpinning issues around racial bias, systemic racism and practices are ones that we see experienced in our own policing in terms of who do they use their force of, whether that's tasers, guns, release dogs, et cetera. And in a New Zealand context, it is Maori.

WARNER: New Zealand is one of only a handful of countries where police don't carry a firearm on their person. This goes back to a British tradition established in the 19th century to avoid a police force that's too much like a military patrolling the streets. But in recent years, some Kiwi police officers have pushed to arm police the way they are in most of the world.

WHAIPOOTI: So there have been a number of us who have been strong advocates, both publicly and in lobbying our government to say don't do this, because they already use their lethal weapons on Maori. And they already overpolice and interact with Maori already. So if we put guns in their hands as well to interact with us, that's going to mean lives.

WARNER: This debate over guns and police took a huge shift last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Anti-Muslim terror attack in New Zealand...

WARNER: In the city of Christchurch, an avowed white nationalist entered two mosques during Friday prayers and killed 51 people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: ...Were praying.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: The man who is claiming responsibility and charged with murder is an extreme right-wing white supremacist.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: He describes himself as an ordinary white man who was born in Australia.

WARNER: That was last March, and it was the deadliest mass shooting in the modern history of New Zealand. The following October...

WHAIPOOTI: The head of the police came out and said in response to that attack, they are patrolling 24/7 armed police with militaristic vehicles...

WARNER: A pilot program where teams of fully armed police would be sent on patrol.

WHAIPOOTI: ...In three communities, two of which are predominantly Maori and Pacific communities, those predominantly brown communities.

WARNER: Even though the perpetrator who inspired these rules was white.

WHAIPOOTI: They said, oh, it's for everyone's safety and it would only be used in extreme cases. By February, the majority of their work involved pulling over people for routine traffic stops. And so it's called the mission creep, right? And this came out from their own communications. Public communications was, well, we don't want them sitting on their hands.

WARNER: The police didn't want these trained teams to be sitting idle.

WHAIPOOTI: Yes, I 100% want you sitting on your hands and not on your guns in our communities. Sit on your hands. And so many of us had been drawing parallels to the United States in the sense that we are on the precipice of heading towards an Americanization of our policing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHAIPOOTI: And the sad thing is - and I think it is sad - that it takes something like George Floyd happening over in the States to make everyone in New Zealand go, oh, we don't want that. And this is what the murder of George Floyd by the police and the visibility of it, the impacts that it's had worldwide - the ripples that are felt here on our shores. All of our Maoiri MPs who are in government at the moment come out in the last two days, say they do not support that general arming of New Zealand police. I mean, our prime minister was forced to answer questions about whether she supported the arming of police in New Zealand, and she came out and said no.

WARNER: In the days following George Floyd's death, the hashtag #ArmsDownNewZealand trended to No. 1.

WHAIPOOTI: There were some discussions and tensions around that - you know, about whether it's a movement that's been co-opted to try and do something over here in New Zealand. And I very strongly - I will do anything to make sure that our people can just breathe as ourselves. I will do anything to stop the arming of police because the fact is that it's lives. It's not a discussion, some conceptualized sort of issue. The reality is it is our lives.

WARNER: And this week, the New Zealand police commissioner announced they would not be extending the pilot program of armed police teams. He said he was committed to New Zealand police remaining generally unarmed.

WHAIPOOTI: I'd almost say it'd be impossible for the police to come out now and say that they are going to arm the police in the way that they were planning. So that the power and impact of George Floyd, whose life was stolen so violently and so brutally, the legacy of him - of what he symbolizes to me, I owe a big duty to that man because that means he's saved lives of Maori people in this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Almost everywhere in the world that there are protests, you can find the image of George Floyd. I even saw his face on a fragment of wall which stood improbably in a pile of gray concrete with rebar sticking out everywhere - the remains of a collapsed building. Here, there is nothing between George Floyd's face and the blue sky over the province of Idlib, Syria. The mural shows stars behind him and the words, I can't breathe.

We reached out to one of the artists and exchanged voice memos with him, which he recorded in Syria in the middle of the night while his wife and three kids were sleeping.

AZIZ ALASMAR: I am Aziz Alasmar (ph). I am 48-years-old. I am a graffiti artist. About the killing of George Floyd - this horrible crime, it was hurting me because we lived that event before in Damascus and in Idlib. It's still in our brains, all of us. We were attacked in Damascus - close to Damascus in a city called Al-Odah (ph). They killed about 1,500 people in the chemical weapon because they came out against the government asking for freedom. And it happened again and again, more and more in different cities. And the last one were in my city in Idlib, in a city called Khan Shaykhun. And a huge number were killed by that horrible chemical weapon.

So how I decided to draw that mural of George Floyd - when we saw that short recording and when George Floyd was asking the police officer and telling him, please let me breathe; let me breathe; I'm not breathing; please let me breathe - and I remembered my people who were killed in the same way by chemical weapons. We started to prepare for drawing, painting that painful mural to show the whole world that we care about humanity because we are all human regardless the color.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALASMAR: The mural was on destroyed walls. That's what I always do - paint on destroyed walls. Why? Because under those walls, there are lots of dead people who are attacked by Russian air forces and Iranian and Syrian government, which is Assad regime. Those people who were attacked and who were killed, they are under those destroyed walls. They are our families, kids. So they were only asking for freedom. They only wanted freedom, and that's what happened to them. And we never forget them.

WARNER: Now George Floyd's image is there, too, so that he won't be forgotten.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: We're going to turn next to Brazil, the last Western country to abolish slavery. And that history now hangs over the reaction in Brazil to George Floyd's death.

LU OLIVERO: I mean, I met a woman not too long ago whose grandmother owned a slave. That's how recent slavery is in Brazil.

My name is Lu Olivero (ph). I am a social media consultant living in Rio de Janeiro for the better part of eight years.

WARNER: Last Monday night, around 8 o'clock, he turned on the TV to watch Comedy Central.

OLIVERO: You know, I was watching I think "Everybody Loves Chris" (ph) - "Everybody Hates Chris." And then all of a sudden, I can't breathe appears on the screen and the sound of a person breathing heavily. And it took me a second to really understand what was going on. And then it clicked for me what they were doing. And I - and my first intention was to turn it off. But I kind of forced myself to watch the full nine minutes of it.

WARNER: This broadcast - you may have heard about it - it was on ViacomCBS networks. So MTV, VH1, Comedy Central all broadcast it. But the Brazilian affiliate did something different. Among the list of names that scrolled across the screen of people who had died at the hands of police, they included Brazilian victims' names as well as names from the U.S.

OLIVERO: So it was Philando Castile. It was Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and obviously Joao Pedro, who was the most recent.

WARNER: Joao Pedro was a 14-year-old boy who was playing at his aunt's house in a city near Rio de Janeiro. The police were searching for suspected gang members and sprayed the house with bullets.

OLIVERO: And then shot Joao Pedro in the stomach. If that wasn't bad enough that they took his body on a helicopter...

WARNER: He died before the helicopter reached the city.

OLIVERO: ...His parents didn't know where he was. His family didn't know who - where he was. And they spent more than 24 hours looking for the body.

WARNER: His family didn't find him until the next day in a medical examiner's office. This all happened just a week before George Floyd's death. And now Joao Pedro's name was the second one after Floyd in this TV spot.

OLIVERO: It would have been weird if they just did George Floyd. But I think they - it gave it a depth to it, a volume. Like, listen. This isn't an American problem; this is a bigger issue that we need to kind of look at.

WARNER: Lu started checking social media, which is his job, and he was looking at the reactions to this video.

OLIVERO: And what's interesting about Comedy Central is that in Brazil, you have to pay for Comedy Central. And traditionally speaking, the large majority of people who are able to pay for this channel are middle- to upper-class white Brazilians. And there was obviously a mixed reaction from that demographic as to the importance of this. There were a lot of people who were supporting this. And then on the other side, people were saying - well, we don't want to deal with the United States' problems. Those are their problems. Leave them over there; we don't want to deal with that.

WARNER: But Lu was noting other voices - black Brazilians, Afro Brazilians - who were frustrated that it took a channel from North America to draw a connection that most Brazilians were not making themselves.

OLIVERO: It's frustrating to see when Joao Pedro was killed, no one says anything. And then these very same people, George Floyd gets murdered - all of a sudden, it's Black Lives Matter. And I've spoken to a lot of white Brazilians about this, and they are in fact more concerned when something happens in the United States than when it happens here in Brazil. So it just sort of highlights that divide.

To have his legacy not be that final image of him having a knee on his neck - part of his legacy should be - is that we sort of open up our eyes to understand that this isn't an American problem. Anyone who's been paying attention to this understands that it is international.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NJOYA: They were saying that those of us who are mourning for George Floyd are mourning for him because it's the United States and we wanted to look like we are sort of, like, a class above the rest of Kenyans.

My name is Wandia Njoya. I am a senior lecturer at Daystar University in Kenya.

WARNER: And she watched the George Floyd video the day after it was released.

NJOYA: Oh, God. I was so horrified, I didn't even finish watching it. I felt a huge feeling of grief. And I think it was the grief that, why should a man die like that? That was such a humiliating death. The least we deserve is to die with our friends and family in a way that is dignifying. And he had to go with such humiliation, yeah. And then of course, after that is when I started feeling the outrage that we can't be here again.

WARNER: She took her grief and her anger to Twitter. Then when she did, there was a backlash from her fellow Kenyans.

NJOYA: It's an idea that anyone - any Kenyan who talks about something happening outside Kenya is ignoring what is happening in their home country. It's a hint and an underhand narrative that Kenyans use to shut people up by saying you're so colonized, the only people you talk about are foreigners. It's an insult. It's the underlying insult, yeah.

WARNER: Wandia says this narrative in Kenya, it's double-edged because she's also silenced when she tries to talk about Kenyan victims of police violence.

NJOYA: And it's by design because what happens is that every time we try to talk about the local deaths, we get a backlash from the media and from politicians and their supporters saying, think about the police; these people are violent. Our young people are doing nothing, and they're lazy and they are criminals. You know, we are given that spiel. And because it has traction with the state and with the media apparatus, our voices are not heard. And we never say, at a very human level, somebody died, and he demands mourning.

The reason why these extrajudicial killings in Kenya don't get any reaction is because our hearts, as Kenyans, have been numbed so much that we can't feel anymore. And in a sense, by trying to grieve with the rest of the world, maybe that will help us come back to that feeling and that humanity that we have to care for others, whether we know them or not.

WARNER: This weekend, people did try to publicly grieve and protest the death of George Floyd in a park in downtown Nairobi. It's a park I've been to - I used to be based in Nairobi for NPR - and it's often the site of protests about all kinds of things. But this time, police blocked people from gathering, and plainclothes officers with sticks started telling anyone who looked like a protester they had to leave. It's rare for plainclothes police to be at protests in Kenya. It's rare for protests to be stopped before they begin. It seemed that George Floyd and the aftermath in Kenya hit a nerve.

NJOYA: So I was saying the George Floyd protests give us a legitimate language to articulate what is wrong with police brutality. And in fact, I think it was two days ago there was a - a man was killed in one of Nairobi's slums. And this time, people, they rioted. It hasn't made the news, but they rioted, which is not something we have been seeing for a while.

I remember one of my friends, who is a pastor, wrote a very nice tribute talking about how she identifies with George Floyd. I can read just the first part.

She says, (reading) I confess I did not watch the clip of the knee. I did not have it in me to watch it. And yet, that has not stopped me from having nightmares of being unable to breathe. These nightmares have happened when I am walking in the streets, when I am in class learning, when I am waiting in a queue and even when I'm listening to a sermon - the nerve of nightmares to interfere with worship; the nerve of nightmares to show up during the day.

There's a song by Juliani, one of our - Kenya's local musicians, which he sang after the police killed three men because they were pursuing a case against police brutality.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACHOZI YA JANA")

JULIANI: (Rapping in non-English language).

WARNER: The song is called "Machozi Ya Jana" - "Yesterday's Tears." And the translation of the lyrics is this - their blood crying for justice will run like water in the taps of statehouse. It's more than hashtags and placards. Enough is enough.

That song was written three years ago, but the case against these officers had languished. And then just this past week, against rising pressure, the officers charged with that killing announced they would enter a plea, which might be at least the first step toward justice.

NJOYA: So we are slowly following our hearts and trying to find the language and the spirit to keep saying that this is not right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACHOZI YA JANA")

JULIANI: (Singing in non-English language).

WARNER: Today's show is produced by Tina Antolini with Autumn Barnes and Derek Arthur. Our editor is Lu Olkowski. Additional reporting on this episode from Joanna Kakissis, NPR correspondent in Greece. She spoke to the Amsterdam city councilman. Thanks also to NPR correspondents Eyder Peralta, Frank Langfitt, Eleanor Beardsley, Lauren Frayer, Julie McCarthy, Rob Schmitz, Phil Reeves and chief international editor Didi Schanche, who all helped us develop our approach and ideas for this episode. The episode is better thanks to Jess Jiang, Osayi Endolyn and Saidu Tejan-Thomas. And thanks for the conversations with Sarah Aoun, Mazbou Q and Andre Afamasaga.

Juliani is the Kenyan artist of this tune. That is Juliani with a J. I strongly recommend his music video, which you'll find a link to as well as lots more links at npr.org/roughtranslation. The ROUGH TRANSLATION executive team is Neal Carruth, Chris Turpin and Anya Grundmann. Mastering by Isaac Rodrigues; John Ellis composed our theme music, other scoring from Blue Dot Sessions.

If you'd like more stories like this in your podcast feed, give us a rating or a review on Apple Podcasts, or tell a friend about the show. You can drop us your thoughts, your stories at roughtranslation@npr.org or on Twitter @roughly.

I'm Gregory Warner, back in two weeks with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACHOZI YA JANA")

JULIANI: (Rapping, singing in non-English language).

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