World

George Floyd’s funeral held as protests continue around the world. Video of injured athlete Debbie Kaore highlights PNG family violence. Brazil reinstates cumulative Covid-19 toll. Olof Palme murder finally solved. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Black Lives Matter protests bring reform

Pallbearers bring the casket into The Fountain of Praise Church, Houston, for George Floyd’s funeral on Tuesday.
Credit: Godofredo A. Vásquez / Getty Images

GREAT POWER RIVALRY

United States: Hours after George Floyd was killed on May 25, groups of Minneapolis residents gathered near the site of his death and at a nearby police station and began to protest. On the following day, the protests spread to Memphis, Louisville, Los Angeles and Chicago. They have since spread around the world.

In Ghent, a hood with the words “I can’t breathe” was placed on a statue of King Leopold II, who led the Belgian conquest of Congo; in Nairobi, protesters held placards saying “Youth Lives Matter” and demanded an end to police brutality, which often targets boys; across France, protests, some held in defiance of bans, prompted the government this week to outlaw the use of chokeholds during arrests.

In Britain, where more than 137,000 people have attended marches, Boris Johnson said on Monday that Floyd’s death had “awakened an anger and a widespread and incontrovertible, undeniable feeling of injustice”. “I hear you, and I understand,” he said.

In the United States, the mass protests have started to prompt changes to the nation’s policing and politics. Minneapolis councillors have promised to disband the police force and install a more community-based public safety system; New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, is cutting police funding; and the Democrats in congress have proposed a law to ban unannounced police raids and chokeholds.

On Tuesday, Floyd, who was 46, was buried in Houston. Outside the church where the funeral service was held, two voter registration tables were set up.

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Papua New Guinea: Debbie Kaore is a 30-year-old athlete from Papua New Guinea who has represented her nation in rugby union, rugby league and boxing. Last year, in a profile by the World Bank for International Women’s Day, she expressed hope that the country would one day be led by women.

“I would like to see women educating their sons to respect women,” she said. “If everyone can learn to respect each other, I believe there will be a change.”

This week, Kaore shared a graphic video on social media of a man headbutting a woman repeatedly and hitting the woman twice on the head with a hot iron. The woman, she wrote, was herself, and the man was her partner, Murray Oa, a 33-year-old army lieutenant and the father of their two-month-old baby.

“I got burned by an iron and then hit by it while our children watched,” she wrote. “… I am putting this out here cause this has gone too far. I can only hope that there won’t be another victim after me.”

The video caused a public outcry in Papua New Guinea, where an estimated two-thirds of women suffer domestic abuse. According to a 2013 study in the province of Bougainville, 62 per cent of men reported having committed rape, and 80 per cent of men who had partners reported physically or sexually abusing them.

Following Kaore’s posting of the video, Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, released a statement saying gender-based violence was “not a Melanesian thing”.

“Brothers and sons, leave that lady alone,” he said.

Police arrested Oa and charged him with causing grievous bodily harm. On Tuesday, he was released on bail and ordered not to consume alcohol or interfere with witnesses.

DEMOCRACY IN RETREAT

Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president, has repeatedly tried to downplay the risks of Covid-19, insisting it was media “hysteria” and that the virus’s health effects were less dangerous than shutting down the economy. He has addressed rallies without a mask, attacked lockdowns imposed by state governors and installed an army general as acting Health minister after losing two previous Health ministers – both doctors – who disagreed with his approach. As of Thursday, Brazil had 772,416 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 39,680 deaths, the worst outbreak outside the United States.

Last week, as Brazil’s death toll surpassed Italy’s, Bolsonaro apparently tried to conceal the extent of the outbreak by ordering the Health Ministry’s website to reveal only daily cases and fatalities, rather than cumulative totals. The cumulative figures, he said, did “not reflect the moment the country is in”. His government also pushed back the release time of its daily case update to 10pm, after the end of the most-watched nightly television news program.

A Supreme Court justice, Gilmar Mendes, said the government’s manipulation of statistics was “a tactic of totalitarian regimes”.

“The trick will not remove responsibility for the eventual genocide,” Mendes said in a tweet.

On Tuesday, the government restored the cumulative figures after it was ordered to do so by a judge.

According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic is worsening globally. On Monday, the organisation’s experts urged governments not to prematurely unwind restrictions. “This is far from over,” Maria van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist, said in an online briefing.

SPOTLIGHT: Swedish mystery solved

In February 1986, the then Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, and his wife, Lisbet, left a cinema in Stockholm and were walking down a busy downtown street when a man in a coat approached from behind and shot Palme in the back, killing him. The assassin ran off and was never found.

For 34 years, authorities have tried to uncover the mystery of Palme’s murder. More than 10,000 people were questioned, and 134 people confessed. The crime writer and journalist Stieg Larsson became obsessed with the case and investigated it for years until his death in 2004, proposing that pro-apartheid South African operatives joined with Swedish right-wing extremists to kill Palme. Other suspects included Kurdish separatists, the Italian Mafia and an alcoholic ex-prisoner, Christer Pettersson, who was convicted and then acquitted.

But, on Wednesday, Swedish authorities finally revealed they believed they had found the killer – Stig Engström, a right-wing former Swedish soldier who had an aversion to Palme, the leader of the Social Democratic Party and an outspoken critic of the United States.

At a much-anticipated press conference, the case’s chief prosecutor, Krister Petersson, said the investigation was being discontinued because Engström was dead and could not be questioned or indicted. Engström, who had long been a suspect, died by suicide in 2000.

“The person is Stig Engström,” said Petersson. “I am not able to start proceedings or even interview him; that is why I decided to discontinue the investigation.”

Engström, known as the “Skandia man” because he worked for the Swedish insurance firm Skandia, was one of the first at the scene of the murder. He had left his office building two minutes before Palme was shot. He claimed he tried to revive Palme and gave various accounts to media and authorities, but police deemed him an unreliable witness. His ex-wife claimed he was too much of a coward to murder the prime minister. 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 13, 2020 as "Black Lives Matter protests bring reform".

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Jonathan Pearlman
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.

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