The topics discussed in “Long Walk To Freedom”— police brutality, social justice, and race relations — are the same issues Americans are reckoning with today in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
Recent abuses of power by the Trump administration, which has sent federal officers into city streets, has badly escalated the grief of protesters, resulting in more tension and violence. This move by the executive branch is reminiscent of the actions of Prime Minister Malan, founder of apartheid, in response to the May 1, 1950 Freedom Day strike in Johannesburg, a march against discriminatory legislation.
Mandela described this scene, “Mounted police galloped into the crowd, smashing people with batons, bullets… an indiscriminate and unprovoked attack.” This instance was just one of numerous attacks by the state that killed or wounded Africans who were organizing for their rights. Officers were not held accountable or brought to justice.
With distance from the atrocities of South Africa’s apartheid system, it is easy for us, as Americans, to point at the racism, inequality and injustice of Mandela’s time and see that it was wrong. It is less obvious, perhaps, for those unaffected by institutional racism, to recognize, much less acknowledge, the continual unjust treatment of Black people in the U.S.
Yet, the causes forcing organizers and protesters into the streets in the last few months, in cities and towns all over, are the same causes that compelled Mandela to march. Today, he is revered for his leadership and bravery in the face of injustice. However, during most of his adult life, as an attorney and activist, he was persecuted by authorities, and eventually imprisoned, as he spoke out against racist policies and police brutality. His book provides lessons, insights, and — precisely as he and his colleagues intended —inspiration for all those struggling for civil rights, justice, and liberation.
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