Is the US still the world’s moral leader? Not after what Trump just did this week

London CNN  — 

Remnants of the Berlin Wall in Germany still stand as a reminder that freedoms have always been hard won. Today, part of the wall has been painted over with a mural of George Floyd and the words “I can’t breathe,” another reminder of how quickly freedoms can be taken away.

The harrowing video of Floyd, an unarmed black American, meeting his death as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes has sent shockwaves around the world, mobilizing protesters across Europe and Africa, and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

But beyond the death of yet another black American at the hands of police, US President Donald Trump’s response to it has further infuriated people and raised an important question: Is the US still the world’s moral guardian?

This week, at least, the answer is a resounding No.

A mural of George Floyd painted by the artist Eme Freethinker on a wall at Mauerpark in Berlin on May 30.

“Sickened,” “shocked and appalled,” “horror and consternation” – these are words we’re used to hearing from US presidents and diplomats to condemn despotic regimes. But these are from leaders in the UK, the European Union and Canada, respectively, to describe Floyd’s killing.

“We support the right to peaceful protest, unequivocally condemn violence and racism of any kind and call for a de-escalation of tensions,” said the EU’s high representative, Josep Borrell, on Tuesday.

Few leaders have dared to criticize Trump by name, but Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in parliament on Wednesday gave perhaps the strongest condemnation of the US government from an ally.

“I stand in solidarity with the demonstrations that are happening in the United States. Because obviously we are all very concerned about the authoritarian debate and those authoritarian ways that we are seeing as a response to some demonstrations,” he said.

At Lafayette Square across from the White House, police on Monday shot at protesters with rubber bullets and pepper-spray projectiles. One was seen beating an Australian journalist with a baton. Another shoved her cameraman with a shield and punched him in the face.

Police clash with protesters near the White House on Monday at a demonstration against the killing of George Floyd.

They are scenes reminiscent of the 2013 Gezi protests in Turkey, as the Islamic world’s celebrated democracy rapidly slid down the path toward authoritarianism. And they are particularly jarring to see in the US, a country where the freedom to protest peacefully is enshrined in the Constitution, a seminal document for the world’s legal architecture on human rights.

Just as startling as the crackdown itself was the justification for it. The police appeared to have used such force simply to clear a path for the President to stage a very unsubtle photo-op, waving a Bible in front of a church.

“There’s nothing that can justify the kind of force the police have been using, and it departs significantly against international human rights standards around the right to protest and the right to freedom of assembly,” said Michael Hamilton, an expert in public protest law at the UK’s University of East Anglia.

International human rights law obliges police to protect and facilitate peaceful protesters, he said. “The footage that everybody has been watching shows that blatantly is not what’s been happening.”

At a time where most leaders would call for national unity, Trump has threatened to use the military across the country to achieve “total domination,” branding protesters as “thugs,” even “terrorists.”