SKIBBEREEN man Darren O’Dwyer is living in Minneapolis, the focus of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Darren – who is from Riverdale in Skibbereen, but relocated to Minneapolis in the state of Minnesota 10 years ago – confirmed: ‘It’s like a war zone following the murder of the 46-year-old man by the police on May 25th last.’
The restaurant manager lives in Richfield, the same town where George Floyd died after a policeman knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes, despite having already been handcuffed and repeating: ‘I can’t breathe.’
As a husband and father to two boys, Darren described how ‘surreal’ everything is right now.
He said: ‘We live probably four miles from that street. It’s somewhere we’d frequent a lot.’
But even at a four-mile remove, Darren said: ‘The mall across the street from us was looted and is now all boarded up. It has been covered in graffiti and looks like a war zone, but the real riots are happening uptown at Lake Street.’
The night it happened, Darren said he told his wife this would be the outcome because it has happened before. In 2016, in Minnesota, a 32-year-old African American man, Philando Castile, was fatally shot during a traffic stop.
Commenting on racism in the US, Darren said: ‘There is definitely a divide. This is a terrible way to bring discrimination against black people – people of colour – to the forefront, but it has changed opinion and could be instrumental in changing the policing system.’
He said there is solidarity, too, with lots of Irish people who are helping to literally clean the streets and set up food shelters. Darren believes: ‘The protests are justified, but the rioting and looting isn’t.’
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, writer Alice Carey, who lives part of the year on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in West Cork, described her horror at what happened.
Alice said: ‘George Floyd’s last words affect me profoundly. Living through this pandemic in Manhattan, I say the same thing whenever I’ve been too long in a store or a bus.
‘Running to the door, ripping a mask from my face and gulping for air I invariably say, “I can’t breathe.” But I’m alive, while Mr Floyd isn’t. What an evil way for a black man to die – filled with the knowledge he is about to, whilst trapped under a white man’s knee.’
Dunmanway resident Janet Nunan Cunningham, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, also expressed her horror.
She said: ‘I am an Irish citizen living permanently in Ireland but I was born, raised and spent the first half of my life in the States.
‘I am heartbroken but not surprised by what is happening there. I’ve been expecting it.’