Nations around the world have watched in horror at the five days of civil unrest in the United States following the death of a black man being detained by police. But they have not been surprised.
Racism-tinged events no longer startle even America’s closest allies, though many have watched coverage of the often-violent protests with growing unease. Burning cars and riot police in the US featured on newspaper front pages around the globe Sunday — bumping news of the COVID-19 pandemic to second-tier status in some places.
George Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck. It was the latest in a series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police in America.
Thousands gathered in central London on Sunday to offer support for American demonstrators. Chanting "No justice! No peace!" and waving placards with the words “How many more?” at Trafalgar Square, the protesters ignored UK government rules banning crowds because of the pandemic. Police didn't stop them.
Demonstrators then marched to the US Embassy, where a long line of officers surrounded the building. Several hundred sat in the street and waved placards.
The US Embassy in Berlin was the scene of protests on Saturday evening under the motto: “Justice for George Floyd.” Police said the gathering, organized through social media, was larger than expected but reported no arrests.
Germany’s top-selling Bild newspaper on Sunday carried the sensational headline “This killer-cop set America ablaze” with an arrow pointing to a photo of now-fired police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder in Floyd’s death, with his knee on Floyd’s neck. The newspaper’s story reported “scenes like out of a civil war."
In Italy, the Corriere della Sera newspaper's senior US correspondent Massimo Gaggi wrote that the reaction to Floyd’s killing was “different” than previous cases of black Americans killed by police and the ensuring violence.
“There are exasperated black movements that no longer preach nonviolent resistance,” Gaggi wrote, noting the Minnesota governor’s warning that “anarchist and white supremacy groups are trying to fuel the chaos.''
In countries with authoritarian governments, state-controlled media have been highlighting the chaos and violence of the US demonstrations, in part to undermine American officials’ criticism of their own nations.
In China, the protests are being viewed through the prism of US government criticism of China's crackdown on anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-owned Global Times newspaper, tweeted that US officials can now see protests out their own windows: “I want to ask Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Pompeo: Should Beijing support protests in the US, like you glorified rioters in Hong Kong?”
Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign ministry spokeswoman, pointed out America's racial unrest by tweeting “I can't breathe,” which Floyd said before his death.
In Iran, which has violently put down nationwide demonstrations by killing hundreds, arresting thousands and disrupting internet access to the outside world, state television has repeatedly aired images of the US unrest. One TV anchor discussed “a horrible scene from New York, where police attacked protesters.” Another state TV message accused US police agencies in Washington of “setting fire to cars and attacking protesters,” without offering any evidence.
Russia also expressed a lack of shock.
“This incident is far from the first in a series of lawless conduct and unjustified violence from US law enforcement,’’ the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “American police commit such high-profile crimes all too often.’’
There also have been expressions of solidarity with the demonstrators.
Over the weekend, Lebanese anti-government protesters flooded social media with tweets sympathetic to US protesters, using the hashtag #Americarevolts. That's a play on the slogan for Lebanon’s protest movement — Lebanon revolts — which erupted on October 17 last year. Within 24 hours, the hashtag #Americanrevolts became the No. 1 trending tag in Lebanon.
In another expression of solidarity with American protesters, about 150 people marched through central Jerusalem on Saturday to protest the shooting death by Israeli police of an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man earlier in the day. Israeli police mistakenly suspected that the man, Iyad Halak, was carrying a weapon. When he failed to obey orders to stop, officers opened fire.