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Solidarity rally over death of George Floyd to be held in S. Korea

Demonstrators march through the streets of Hollywood, California, on June 2, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.  (Yonhap)
Demonstrators march through the streets of Hollywood, California, on June 2, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.  (Yonhap)

A solidarity demonstration over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody in the US will take place online in South Korea on Saturday, as protests condemning police brutality and racism spread worldwide.

Black communities and their supporters in Korea are to take to social media on Saturday at noon, demanding justice for George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

The participants are to post pictures of themselves in T-shirts with “Black Lives Matter” in Korean and English with the hashtags -- #GeorgeFloyd and  #blacklivesmatterkorea -- in both languages. They will also wear masks saying “I can’t breathe” in both languages.

The organizers said that some 900 people who had bought the presold T-shirts were expected to join the online rally.

(Jason V Holmes)
(Jason V Holmes)

“Most black American expats have been crying,” said EJ Asare, 39, who teaches English here and co-organized the event. “We watch the videos and cry tears of powerlessness, frustration and anger at the fact that we are being hunted down and killed like animals back home.”

It was the latest in a series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police in the US. 

“He was not the first Black American to be a victim of unnecessary force at the hands of the police. He was not the first to be physically assaulted by white racists. He was not the first to die as a result of that violence,” commented Melissa A. Watkins, a 39-year-old writer, who has lived in Korea for over five years. “But he should be the last.” 

“As American citizens, we want a change in the racist policies and practices of the government in our home country,” she said. 

Initially, the organizers planned a physical gathering, but they turned online due to safety concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and need for social distancing. 

“The demonstration is particularly important in light of an opinion commonly voiced by some Korean nationals in discussions with Black Americans abroad -- that the current unrest is ‘just riots’ or ‘just violence,’” she pointed out. 

South Korea is largely a homogenous society linguistically, ethnically and culturally, despite the growing number of foreign nationals settling here through marriage or for work. There has not been much active discussion in public about the anti-racism movement raging in the US. 

“The stakes are high not only for Black people, but also for Koreans and other Asians who have faced increasing racial violence and injustice in the US due to being blamed for the spread of COVID-19,” she added. 

Another similar event is scheduled for 1 p.m. on June 19 -- Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorating the same day in 1865 when all enslaved African Americans were emancipated from slavery, 2 1/2 years after the end of the US Civil War.

A video showing a white police officer continuing to drive his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck, even after he pleaded he could not breathe and subsequently became nonresponsive, has triggered deep-seated anger over police killings of African Americans. It has led to eight consecutive days of protests across the US. 

The official post-mortem examination of Floyd by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office concluded his death was a homicide.

Despite curfews instituted in several cities to stop violence and the looting of businesses as well as US President Donald Trump’s threat to send in the military to end the unrest, demonstrators continue to peacefully gather and demand justice for Floyd. 

Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Three other officers on the scene -- Thomas Lane, J.A. Kueng and Tou Thao -- have been fired but not charged despite the demands of the victim’s family and protesters.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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