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The #Icantbreathe cry is a lesson for us all to call for Justice, against racism

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On 25 May, Mr George Floyd, a 46-year-old US citizen, died of asphyxia during his arrest by an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department. As the shocking images of this brutal arrest of an African-American citizen spread across r the world, a growing wave of protests in the USA and beyond shook people's conscience.

Faced with such a tragedy, it is impossible to remain silent. All the more as this killing of Mr George Floyd is unfortunately not an isolated case. In addition to numerous other examples of discrimination against minorities, the newspapers regularly report racist crimes which affect in particular Black Americans.

Racism and discrimination are venoms which slowly poison our societies from within, in the USA, in Europe and everywhere else. While our sympathy will always go to the victims of these abuses, it is clear that sympathy is not enough. Indeed, the victims of racism are not only the ones whose fundamental right to life is brutally taken away and whose names sadly appear on the headlines. Victims are also all the members of discriminated groups who feel they must keep a low profile in order to ensure their safety and that of their families.

Central to the principle of the rule of law is the idea that everyone is equal before the law and should be treated in a fair and impartial way. There cannot be Justice if the institutions whose role it is to protect and render Justice are not trusted. There cannot be rule of law if “law and order” are selective and do not protect the entirety of the population in an even and fair way. Attributing the “fault” to specific public institutions in a generalised manner would be oversimplified and unfair.

We do not want to rush judgement, but call for Justice. Indeed, we must face and change a deeply rooted structural problem. This requires accrued vigilance. Institutional racism is viciously engrained in our societies and has so infiltrated our thoughts that simply declaring solidarity and outrage is not enough. We must detect and act decisively against discriminatory thought patterns and actions in all walks of life.

And we must hear and understand the demands that the protesters of these last days have sought to put forward. These protests are calls for Justice for all, for the end of a discriminatory approach to “law and order”.

It is regrettable that some instances of riot and looting, which clearly must be prevented and sanctioned, have affected these otherwise largely peaceful protests. For this does not affect the fundamental message of the majority of protesters.  The authorities have the obligation to ensure that the population’s right to peaceful demonstration and assembly is ensured. This requires courage, empathy and exemplary policing.

Beyond the urgency of these days, the spirit of the population will not be appeased if justice is not rendered. We call for an immediate, effective and independent investigation into the death of Mr George Floyd. We also call for the authorities to take effective action to ensure that human rights are respected in all circumstances and that the police always accomplish its mission accordingly.

We are conscious that many EU Member States face similar struggles - racism and discrimination have a dangerous presence in our societies as well. We therefore also address our call to all relevant authorities on both continents: We must redouble our efforts to counter racism and discrimination. We must respect and protect human rights, and effective remedy must be ensured in any case of abuse. Persons who commit, allow or cover racist crimes, spread or promote hate speech, and in particular those who exert a legal authority, must be pursued by justice, without any complacency.

What is happening now must be a lesson for us all, on either side of the Atlantic. When a large part of the population cannot fully trust those who are supposed to defend them, it is the very cement of our democratic societies – the ones that holds individuals together − that risks falling apart.

Luca Jahier, President of the EESC

José Antonio Moreno Díaz, President of the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group

Press contact

Daniela Vincenti
EESC President Spokesperson
Phone  +32 2 546 82 62
Mobile +32 470 89 22 66


Ewa Haczyk-Plumley
Head of Unit
Tel: +32 2 546 86 41
Ewa [dot] Haczykateesc [dot] europa [dot] eu