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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Police Brutality: ‘Language Has Failed Me’

The Nigerian novelist says she’s at a loss of words when it comes to the rash killings of black men and women by police in America.

If you tore through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, then you’ll likely recall that the protagonist Ifemelu had a blog wittily named “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-­American Black.”


There she muses on her observations of America’s racial dynamics from her perspective as a newly arrived Nigerian.

The Nigerian novelist started a blog called “The Small Redemptions of Lagos,” where she further brought Ifemelu’s voice and insightful social commentary to life for her fans.

“The blog in Americanah—I wanted it to be funny. I wanted to poke fun, because I think many of the ways race manifests itself in this country are actually quite funny so I hoped that people would laugh,” Adichie tells The Atlantic, co-host of at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday.

Mary Louise Kelly, The Atlantic’s contributing editor, asked Adichie what Ifemelu would write in light of the rash of police killings in America in recent years.

“I think what’s going on now just doesn’t give me room for humor,” Adichie says. “I think that I’m so emotionally exhausted by the murders that I don’t think I could find any space to wrap humor around what’s been happening in the past one year, two years.”

Us, too—it’s getting absolutely maddening and monotonous.

The Grammy-nominated, literary icon goes on to explain:

It’s not just that you shoot a man who’s unarmed, it’s that you handcuff him when he’s clearly dying. There’s something about it that’s so unforgivably inhumane and to think that his race is part of the reason ... I really do think that one of the terrible things about racism in this country, is there’s a sense that blackness isn’t really seen as fully human in many quarters. I think that’s why these things happen. I think that’s why a man who is dying is handcuffed, that’s why a boy who is dead is left on the street for hours. It makes me wonder: What’s happened to that part of us that is good?

It’s understandable that Adichie would practice self-care during this increasingly perilous time plagued by senseless police violence—she hasn’t blogged since November 2014, which marked when the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, a few months after he gunned down Michael Brown, and left the unarmed, 18-year-old’s lifeless body on the pavement for hours (for the crows to pluck like strange fruit). The verdict triggered the Ferguson riots.

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#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.



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