46 year old African-American citizen of the US, George Floyd was tortured to death by a white police officer named Derek Chauvin over an 8 minute asphyxiation as the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. Upon reactions to police violence that led to his death, the protests grew to across the United States of America and spread to 20 other countries so far. While in hundreds of different locations people have been protesting against police violence, only to meet more police violence, Turkish news-readers also closely followed the calls for justice and declared messages of support and solidarity. However in the Turkish context support from certain people seemed a bit inconsistent with their approach to the notions of ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’.
While I am not basing my experience on a qualified analysis but on my observation of social media posts and articles published, I can say in Turkey we are in coexistence with a group of people who are in full support of human rights and have a clear stand against police violence and torture, as long as it is outside of Turkey. This denialist mentality has revealed itself most recently through the protests that have been taking place in the US, calling for justice for George Floyd as this group has been showing strong efforts bending over a keyboard; while at the same time ‘ready at any time’ to grab a sharp object to attack protestors in Turkey if they are to take to streets in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is such a group of people that, when an African-American man is subjected to police violence in the US, they chant “this is fascism, down with racism!” with a clear and loud voice as if carrying the banner of anti-racism at the forefronts. Some also go so far as to claim “our police would never do such a thing” even though this is by now almost a daily practice that we get to face new cases of police violence in Turkey.
Satirical weekly magazine Uykusuz has depicted this group on its cover with the note “those who defied Gezi Park protests as ‘vandalism, coup, terrorism‘ loved the anti-racism protests that started in Minneapolis” as the man on the cover wearing a Black Power t-shirt with rising fist on it says “once we are out of the border in Edirne, my leftism starts!”
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FOURTH DAY IN PROTESTS
During the popular Gezi Park protests of 2013, around this time of the year in fact, the single-party government’s Prime Minister of the time was Erdoğan who had come up on TV and said “on the first three days of the protests it was still legitimate but then it turned into something else” which set up the rhetoric of the ruling AKP’s supporters. From then onwards it also became an opposition reaction to belittle AKP supporters whenever they want to reveal the inconsistence in this statement” asking the question “if you had considered the protests legitimate on the first three days, why did you deploy tens of thousands of riot police to violently suppress peaceful protestors.”
Now the same inconsistent approach to calls for justice is being exemplified once again, since the fourth day of George Floyd protests in the US. An “elder” has come into the scene observing the situation while many AKP voters were still hotly supported the protests, even some cheered chanting “the US is burning” slobberingly joying over the fact that the country they consider as “the source of all things wrong around the world” (alongside Israel in many cases, for the same group), is finally turning into ashes. They have been in haste to share photos of burning buildings alongside the portraits of the founder of the political-islam movement Necmettin Erbakan.
As of the fourth day, this “elder” started asking the question “do you realize that you are in support of a handful of looters who are destroying property? If the same thing happened here tomorrow, will you support it? Come to your senses.”
Police intervention in Kadıköy
— dokuz8NEWS (@dokuz8news) June 2, 2020
By the looters, the critique is not only making a reference to the looting incidents -which President Trump infamously referred to with the tweet that read “when looting starts, shooting starts”- but also to Erdoğan’s statements in 2013 against #OccupyGezi protestors as “çapulcu” which literally translates into “looter” even though this had been a premature accusation.
Perhaps the statements against violence, unlawfulness, inequality, torture, murder were all for claiming “I was supporting the protests in the first three days too“. After the Black Lives Matter protests, in Turkey also there has started a trend of sharing names and photos of the people -especially children- that were killed by police. The same people who were cheering for the protests in the US turned to another direction instantly after seeing these names and faces, immediately sharing posts that started with the words “but they were…” completely moving away from posts against fascism and torture.
That fourth day sentiment is the one that reveals President Trump’s attempt to declare Antifa as a terrorist organization, despite the collective having been formed as a resistance movement against fascism and Nazis. This becomes the wind in the sails of that “elder” who takes up the opportunity to negotiate with Trump at this point.
As of this moment, the same group that inconsistently protested against police violence before, now started sharing posts that revealed “they destroyed public/private property” adding that “they are looting shops” even though they know that the store owner will be reimbursed by the insurance and even when companies that own those stores came out in support of the protestors. This group that initially cheered the ashes of buildings, somehow started feeling more sorry for the lifeless concrete structures in the face of a man who lost his life through combined torture-efforts of Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
LEARNING FROM ONE ANOTHER
As the protests spread around the world after the first rallies being held in London and Berlin, in multiple countries people are chanting “I can’t breath“, the last words of George Floyd… Against any protest, globally it is possible to see a coordinated strategy as states spend a vast budget for overseas police trainings and develop common methods of protest-suppression; yet the voices that attract police violence also hear each other out all around the world.
As activists and academics share an interest in defining and explaining the protest movements, I remember the talks I gave in Sweden regarding the Gezi Park protests, which eventually contributed to the book Screening Protest, by Alexa Robertson of Stockholm University, who led a team of researchers to cover a ten year period to monitor 1.638 protest items.
Then the other day I came across my friend Evren Barış Yavuz’s tweet, which reads “I am certain that they saw this from us but I am unable to prove it” sharing a photo from 2013 in Ankara to compare to the protestors in the US.
Eminim bizden gördüklerine tüm bunları ama ispatta zorlanıyorum.
— Evren Barış Yavuz (@evrenbarisyavuz) June 1, 2020
Could a potential American protestor have seen the 2013 photo? I doubt that… Or is it even the original one in Ankara? Could be… Yet, progressive movements in our planet must always be more cosmopolitan, there is no such luxury as to be self-isolationist when it comes to rights & liberties.
Let the state practices get together in “high-level meetings” to construct a logical framework and developing work-plans; the protests that continue to inspire each other through free association and creative processes, and equip the other people demanding “justice”.
Although this inspiration and shared creativity is sometimes referred to as doings of a “foreign instigator” as we have seen recently in the US as some blamed China and some others Russia. Similarly in 2013 during Gezi Park protests, former AKP Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Melih Gökçek had said “OTPOR -funded by George Soros- is behind the uprising in Turkey” claiming that the Serbian civic protest group that later turned into a movement and was operational between 1998-2004 standing up against the policies that were under the brutal influence of President of the time, Slobodan Milosevic.
Even though OTPOR leader Ivan Marovic had come out repeatedly to state that there had been no interaction with #OccupyGezi protestors, the perception in Turkey among pro-government supporters remained to insist on links between the two groups, as if it is a crime to observe and be inspired from protest methods in other parts of the world. At this point I do remember a police officer during the Gezi Park protests yelling at me “you have obviously been trained” which was utterly confusing; the intellectual questioning of police violence apparently brought more police violence and accusation of having learned about other people’s demands for justice too…
“Protestor Samsa” woke up on the fourth day of protests to forget about the words of solidarity he spoke in the previous days… The same group that boasted to “standing up to the standing man protestor” during Gezi Park protests, eventually digested their initial statements, and when Trump announced he would declare Antifa as a terrorist organization they were quick to say “we told you so!” as they started proudly supporting Trump’s response to protests, as they continuously drew parallels between the designated enemies of Turkish government and the Antifa.
The “winners” of the ending era have nothing more to bring on to the stage. On the other hand those who are shaking the roots of institutional racism from its very core, are adding up their new statements upon their existing remarks; and their number is not few at all!
These groups that have cosmopolitan concerns and have intertwined with each other upon getting declared “marginals” are never reluctant to lock up arms and stand a united front; and doing this without expecting an interest or profit in return, unlike the other group.
WHERE IS IT LEADING TO?
Obviously the protests are going to continue; it is not disappearing. The majority of the people on the streets are the youth, mostly the youngsters who can not breath in the suffocating system of governance imposed on them. They are the people who are sentenced to economic hopelessness, taking eight different types of anti-depressants to continue their life and want to see a quality alternative to the existing system that unleashed all its problems on the new generation.
The problems that the people are protesting about are not the kind of things that can change with an election; otherwise the Black Lives Matter would not have come out after similar police violence cases during the Obama presidency… Social transformation takes up time, but the current trends can be seen as the primary steps of this transformation and progress.
US ELECTIONS: NOVEMBER 2020
Looking at the short-term impact of the protests, Trump seems to be turning them into an opportunity to consolidate the Republican support behind him, just as he had used the misogynist sentiments in 2016.
Former US presidents before midterm elections were involved in wars and military operations that won them the hearts and votes of the electorate. President Trump now will also want people to “rally around the flag” although this time the president did not deploy troops in the Middle East or Afghanistan, but in his homeland, even around the White House.
As many people started seeing Trump as the potential winner of elections after Bernie Sanders had withdrew his nomination, after the coronavirus fiasco that left over 111.000 dead in the US the management capabilities of the president were heavily questioned; now Trump has mobilized his supporters once again, in opposition to Black Lives Matter protests.
Yet, just as the Swedish Social Democratic Party won the elections after 1971 Almstriden protests that demanded substantial change for the society, or the Turkish Justice & Development Party AKP winning the municipal elections and presidential elections in 2014 a year after the Gezi Park Protests -although with the support of a few cats that seemed to help the authorities during ballot-count- Donald Trump will probably have an advantage at the end of this process in the short run.
People in times of crises might be afraid of the change; at least in short-term planning. The potential alternative to Trump currently is Joe Biden who does not promise too much but can be mainly perceived as “return to good old days” which were neither good nor that old for majority of the people who want real change.
Similar to the Turkish opposition in 2014, many US voters after three years of Trump presidency had come to the point of “stop diverging, just vote for anyone but him“, there needs to be a period of incubation for all that is happening and the spirit of change needs to be institutionalized through creation of its media, its thinkers, speakers, intellectual creators, etc…
This process will eventually turn into a major catalyst for all the world and inspire humanity, coming out of the country where biggest social movements have been formed since the 1960s. If the “protestors of the fourth day” would act slightly more consistently, the scene at the horizon would have looked more positive. But when Trump wanted to Make America Great Again, even though he might not have had this in mind, he managed to stimulate the progressive forces to excel in real greatness and inspire progress globally.