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Protests over George Floyd’s death: Singaporeans in the US say they haven't seen anger, violence like this before

SINGAPORE — On Sunday evening, minutes before the 6pm curfew came into effect in the city of Los Angeles in the United States, Ms Crystal Chum, 35, was told that a hair salon less than a two minutes’ walk away from the nail salon she co-owns had been looted.

Tear gas rises above as protesters face off with police during a demonstration outside the White House in Washington, DC, on May 31, 2020, over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.

Tear gas rises above as protesters face off with police during a demonstration outside the White House in Washington, DC, on May 31, 2020, over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.

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SINGAPORE — On Sunday evening, minutes before the 6pm curfew came into effect in the city of Los Angeles in the United States, Ms Crystal Chum, 35, was told that a hair salon less than a two minutes’ walk away from the nail salon she co-owns had been looted.

“But there is not much we can do right now, the police are too busy with the protests, too,” the Singaporean said.

Ms Chum, who has been living in California for the past 10 years, was slightly taken aback by the turn of events: “I’ve seen various protests and demonstrations in my years living here, but this is the first time that it has escalated to such a severe state over the course of a few days and to many cities. And the anger and frustration of the community is felt on a much larger scale.”

Over the weekend, protests erupted across several cities in the US, following the death of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd last Monday (May 25). During an arrest in Minneapolis in the state of Minnesota, he was pinned down under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin. The entire incident was recorded and made its rounds on social media.

In the footage, the officer was shown ignoring Floyd’s pleas of distress, including him gasping the words, “I can’t breathe”. Three other officers looked on and bystanders begged Chauvin to remove his knee from the man’s neck.

Chauvin and the three other officers involved in the incident were fired the next day, and last Friday, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

The incident prompted outrage across the country and thousands of protesters took to the streets of Minneapolis and other cities, with peaceful marches against police brutality and racism, in a movement dubbed #Blacklivesmatter.

However, these protest marches soon turned violent with police cars being set on fire.

Reports soon surfaced of the police using pepper spray and tear gas to disperse crowds and shooting rubber bullets at demonstrators.

Storefronts were damaged or had graffiti scrawled across them, and businesses were looted.

Ms Chum, who is an architect by profession, told TODAY: “I’ve seen buildings that have been vandalised and broken into, as well as quite a number of National Guard vehicles on the freeway. On my way home this late afternoon, I saw more than 10 police cars with their lights on, racing on the freeway towards Santa Monica. I later found out there was looting taking place there today.”

SCARED AND ANXIOUS

Ms Chum lives just five to 10 minutes’ drive away from the “main protest and looting activity” and she said that it has been “nerve-wracking” hearing helicopters, sirens and the sound of gunshots going on for hours into the night. 

“We also worry that some of the violent activities might start spreading towards our neighbourhood where we have our car parked on the streets,” she said.

Another Singaporean, Ms Wu Jiezhen, 30, who is living in Boston, Massachusetts and has just graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said that she is still trying to “navigate the situation”, having grown up in Singapore where it is “so safe”.

“Back home, we don’t have protests and I definitely have not seen anything like this in the eight years that I've lived in the US.

“Yes, there have been plenty of protests before, especially with the increase in police brutality and racialised violence, but nothing to this extent. It’s scary.”

Ms Wu added that there is much confusion over the protests and uncertainty over how things will unfold in the coming days.

“It seems like there is a group that wants to have peaceful protests and there's this other group that is looking to take a more violent approach. Then, there’re also opportunists who are not even part of the movement and who are looting and just destroying property. It's just a lot of chaos.”

Incidentally, in two days’ time, Ms Wu is moving to Los Angeles to live with her husband, and she noted that the Covid-19 testing centres in the city were closed on Saturday afternoon due to safety concerns, causing her even more worry.

“I'm really concerned about how this will affect the current Covid-19 situation here — the authorities were already struggling to handle it well,” she said.

EMPATHY FOR THE MINORITY

Another Singaporean who has been in the US for eight years, 25-year-old Denise Lai, said that she has attended peaceful and silent marches before but had to miss the march on Sunday afternoon in her city due to work commitments. 

The veterinary technician living in Santa Barbara, California said: “I spoke to a few of my friends who were at the march and it was a peaceful one, with several people talking about their own experiences. It definitely seems to be a more stand-in-solidarity type of protest and everyone was incredibly respectful, including the authorities — none of the violence that people are hearing about on the news.”

Ms Lai said that such marches and protests take place because “so many voices go unheard”. 

“The African-American community is frustrated. They have been for a very long time and rightly so. It is important for us to stand with this community, because there is strength in numbers and change needs to be made.”

One Singaporean now in Miami, Florida, who declined to be named and who is of Malay and African-American lineage, said that the latest events have caused her more “hurt, anger, sadness, pain and confusion than ever before” while living in the country. 

The 25-year-old, who works in human resources, said: “It hurts to see people that look like me being shown no mercy. This has to stop. Officers need to take accountability for their actions. Innocent lives cannot be taken away from us repeatedly with no good reason. Justice has to be served and police officers cannot keep getting away with murder.”

Mr Josh Wei, 24, a songwriter and music producer living in Los Angeles, found it difficult to judge “America's situation” with a “Singaporean mindset”.

“It's convenient for me to disagree (with these violent extremes) because the Singapore Government doesn't allow such problems to grow to a scale where (such protests) could happen. If I were African-American, I may be more supportive because this may be the only way to have my voice heard. Clearly, the US government can't keep things under control, so the people take things into their own hands,” he said.

“I don't support the violence or looting, but it's an uncomfortable situation and I think many people in America have come to see this as a 'final solution' of some sort. The mess that the looting causes will let the authorities know that people are angry and change needs to happen,” he added.

A 39-year-old Singaporean who declined to be named shared Mr Wei’s sentiments.

A professional in the finance industry and having lived in Los Angeles for eight years, he said: “I would ask people to just exercise a bit of empathy rather than condemn all protesters with broad strokes of the brush. Maybe ask why do they feel the way they do, and more importantly, why do they feel the only recourse they have is this (violent) form of protest.”

Related topics

George Floyd #blacklivesmatter USA protest Minneapolis

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