The death of George Floyd has ignited protests across America and the world, reverberating as far as the gates of the Embassy of the United States in Athens. Though some ruffians have been ransacking American cities under the cover of the protests, polls show that up to 54 percent of Americans support the call for justice. Citywide curfews, heavy police and National Guard deployments, as well as tough talk from the White House have been brushed aside by the passion and conviction of the protesters.
Former President Barack Obama threw his support behind the peaceful protesters, and former secretary of defense James Mattis criticized his old boss’ handling of the protests. More remarkable is the inspiring compassion and empathy shown by police and guardsman who knelt with protesters and others like Sheriff Chris Swanson, who ordered his officers to take off their helmets, lay down their batons, and walk with protesters. Rahul Dubey opened his home to 70 cornered protesters to offer them refuge during Washington, DC’s curfew. What this all shows is that the most important political office in America – that of private citizen – has been stirred.
Sometimes, mass assembly and vocal free speech awaken us to the reality that our neighbor is hurting and needs our help. Protest by the people is a vital component of any democratic order, and no matter how upsetting it may be to witness the events in America, the voice of the people is confronting governing power to demand equal justice for all.
So, to read a tweet from the autocrat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is the world’s premier jailer of journalists, and who brooks no criticism, condemning the killing of George Floyd as a consequence of a fascist American political order, shows the impulses driving this man. Such impulses were exhibited on May 16, 2017 when President Erdogan was in Washington, DC visiting the White House. After his meeting with President Donald Trump, Erdogan’s motorcade traveled to the Turkish ambassador’s residence, where a small group had gathered to protest across the street. The chants of the protesters enraged Erdogan and his security agents, who, with spite and hate, viciously attacked them.
Today, I am one of the attorneys representing the injured protesters in Usoyan et al vs the Republic of Turkey. The lawsuit, detailed at www.hesaysattack.com, demands that President Erdogan and his security agents be held accountable for their violent, politically motivated attacks. No Turkish official has ever expressed remorse for the incident; instead Turkey wants to sweep the violence it perpetrated on American soil under the rug. Turkey argues that as a sovereign country it cannot be sued in American courts, and that Erdogan’s security agents acted on a “perceived” threat. Fortunately, United States District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly rejected Turkey’s arguments noting that Turkish security forces did not have the discretion to violently attack the protesters, nor to continue violently attacking them after they had fallen to the ground and were otherwise attempting to flee. Having failed to convince the court of its sovereign immunity, Turkey has appealed the decision and we continue to zealously challenge the Erdogan regime’s efforts to avoid accountability.
Those who protest the death of George Floyd and those who protest President Erdogan are moved by feelings of pain and suffering. The pain and suffering vented upon the death of George Floyd has driven people into the streets. When Americans attempted to protest Erdogan in the heart of Washington, DC, to express the pain and suffering of their kin and brethren living in Turkey, never could they have imagined Turkish authorities would brutalize them on American soil.
Derek Chauvin, the white policeman who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight and-a-half minutes, and three other officers implicated in his death are being prosecuted by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Muslim African-American. No such prosecutorial diversity and steward of justice can be imagined in Turkey. Indeed, the Erdogan regime is not only harboring the criminally charged security agents who attacked protesters on the streets of Washington, DC, but celebrates them as national heroes. This is to be expected of Erdogan the Magnificent, as he has been called by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright for his fascist impulses, an autocratic leader who commits gross human rights violations, manipulates religion for political gain, violently abuses Kurds, and has plunged his country into a permanent state of political trauma.
Silence is acceptance, say those protesting for equal justice in America. So too our lawsuit raises a voice against Erdogan’s oppression. America is an imperfect country, but its democracy is robust and resilient, and history will prove Erdogan’s legacy worthy of the dustbin.
Andreas N. Akaras, a government and political affairs adviser, is of counsel to the law firm Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday.