As painful sights unfold on its streets, city after city, America must not let slip this moment to reckon with the deep-seated racial prejudice that now mars its standing as a nation that cherishes civil rights and the rule of law. Protests have racked more than 100 cities for 10 consecutive days after the death of Mr George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American who was arrested in Minneapolis on May 25 for allegedly trying to pass off a counterfeit US$20 (S$28) bill. A video that went viral showed a white police officer pinning him down with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Mr Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe. The incident brought millions onto the streets, sparking rolling waves of outrage not seen since the 1992 Los Angeles riots, also sparked by the police killing of a black man and which left over 60 dead.

President Donald Trump called Mr Floyd’s death a grave tragedy and described his mission as “healing not hatred, justice not chaos”. But he also made comments that have triggered more outrage. Calling protesters thugs and terrorists, he urged state governors to “dominate” after protests in some places degenerated into wanton vandalism and looting. But the sight of policemen firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds has only stoked rage that the government was trampling on the right to protest. Even more controversially, Mr Trump suggested that looters should be shot without trial and threatened to unleash the military to clear the streets, causing the traditionally reticent retired military chiefs to openly oppose the idea. Likewise, former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who steer clear of politics, also stepped in with calls for the government to do better, and for the US to ask itself hard questions about why black Americans get killed by police.

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