George Floyd protests: Kiwi in New York reveals the racism that sparked the protests

A Kiwi based in New York says it feels like she's been living "in a warzone" the past couple of weeks.

The US has been gripped by protests and riots in recent weeks, sparked by the death of an African-American man at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Pani Farvid teaches psychology at The New School in the heart of Manhattan. When Magic Talk's Sunday Cafe called, it was just after 6pm on Saturday night in the city that never sleeps. 

Dr Farvid said there were about 20,000 people in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, just across the East River, and another "huge" group outside the nearby Barclay Centre - and also a strong police presence.

"At the moment it's peaceful, but you know - people are really not happy about what's going on," she told host Roman Travers. 

"They're continuing with speaking out and standing up and trying to change a very, very racist systemic approach in this country both to policing and other things." 

Dr Farvid lives on the Lower East Side, which she said now feels like a police state. 

"For the last week there's been helicopters all night, every night; there are police sirens most days. It's quite unsettling - it's a little bit like you're in a warzone.

"One of the things we definitely know from classic social psychology is people protest when their voices are not being heard, and protests escalate when the authorities are overly aggressive or meet the demonstrators in unfair ways." 

Protesters in New York
Protesters in New York Photo credit: Getty

There have been hundreds of documented incidents of police violence on protesters, reporters and bystanders - something the black community in the US knows all too much about. 

"I know we have our own issues... but I was shocked when I moved to New York, when I started living in the US, how overt, hostile and blatant the racism is - and how much more aggressive police deal with individuals of colour," Dr Farvid said.

"I know in New Zealand... young brown men are often at the receiving end of harsher treatment or being pulled over - but here you might get pulled over and as a result of that you might be murdered, if you're a black man. The stakes are much higher." 

Much of the blame has to be placed on the lack of leadership coming from the White House, she said. Dr Farvid noted when white supremacists attacked anti-fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville three years ago with fatal consequences, US President Donald Trump's response was to claim there were "good people" on both sides.

"Then when we have this legitimate uprising that's trying to deal with this historic, entrenched ongoing cultural racism, he calls people 'thugs' and 'looters' and so on to try and delegitimise the movement. Right now he's basically doing the worst a leader could do in every way possible to deal with this situation."

Although there have been protests - sometimes violent - against police brutality and racism in the US' recent history, she says this time it feels different. 

 "This definitely feels extremely different and more widespread, more gripping, more pronounced. The people that are out protesting, it's not just people of colour.... There's a lot of young white people who are sick of what's going on. 

"The COVID situation has really highlighted the inequalities in the US, as well as kind of showing the hollow scaffolding that [holds] a lot of this country together... People are angry and they have a right to be angry. And it's across the board... It does feel like a time when real change is possible."