My article “Racial Division in US’ was published in ‘IndiaOpines’ when an 18-year-old black boy Michael Brown was shot down on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting and the resultant protests and civil unrest had received considerable attention across the globe. The shoot-out had sparked debate about law enforcement’s relationship with African American and police use of force doctrine.
The article was concluded with the following lines:
“While Ferguson, Missouri was in flames, the police descended on the St Louis suburb like an occupying army. Two journalists were arrested. Shops have been looted, scores arrested, the stand-off continues. And this time President Barack Obama is getting the flak, being blamed to have done next to nothing. He was enjoying Golf ! Please don’t blame Narsimha Rao he was watching the TV program when Babri Masjid was razed. History has witnessed many Neros when Rome was burning !
It was in August this year. Today, the New World is on fire again; American dream is on fire; White, Black, Brown and Poor America is on fire. The most successful system of government is failing. Prima facie the ‘system’ is guilty. It is a system that produced the ‘Vigilanti Style’ police officers who behaved like they were answerable to no one. They were the law unto themselves. It is easy to predict that embers of rage will smolder and flare until the “justice” system of Uncle Sam is thoroughly reformed.
Yesterday, immediately after St. Louis prosecutor Robert McnCulloch announced that a grand jury had failed to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, the city of Ferguson was back on fire. The flare of protest engulfed dozen of buildings, several shops were torched and looted. Police cars were set ablaze. The cops in Ferguson had to fire rounds of tear-gas canisters into crowds and deployed armored vehicles with gun turrets. As the situation was going out of control, President Obama had to appear on TV to urge for calm. Many arrest followed and the citizens across America spilled out on to the streets. Highways and bridges were shut down in acts of civil disobedience. In New York City the Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was splattered with fake blood.
The President of United States went out and asked for respect for the rule of law.
As the adage goes – ‘All that glitters is not gold.’ It is very true for land of ‘Mackennas Gold.’ It reminds me the novel ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ written by Kiran Desai. Just a few lines I’m quoting here that described the life of aspiring illegal Indians in US. It is just a glimpse of American life for vulnerables.
“As in places of poverty where the luxury is rented out, shared, and passed along from neighbor to neighbor’…………’without us living pigs’, said Biju, ‘What business would you have? This is how you make your money, paying us nothing because you know we can’t do anything, making us work day and night because we are illegal. Why don’t you sponsor us for our green card?’
Volcanic explosion. ‘How can I can sponsor you? If I sponsor you I have to sponsor Rishi, and if I sponsor Rishi, then I have to sponsor Saran, and if him then Jeev, and then Mr Lalkaka will come and say…………Go find someone to sponsor you. Know how easily I can replace you? Know how lucky you are!!! You think there aren’t thousan00ds of people in this city looking for a job?I can replace you like this.’ He snapped his fingers,’ I’ll snap my fingers and in one second hundreds of people will appear. Get out of my face.”
Rule of Law in the towns of gleaming spires is no different than from that of third world countries. They teach and talk of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ full throat but in their own backyard there is near impunity for law-enforcement agents to shoot, choke and beat unarmed civilians. It is said that on-duty police officers committed 3 percent of all homicides last year. A study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that in 2012, a black person was killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed vigilante every twenty-eight hours.
In the name of self defense the federal law gives wide latitude to police officers to use deadly force while merely carrying out an arrest. A legal term for force is “objectively reasonable.” If the suspect has dark skin, “objectively reasonable” use of force by police may be a toy gun or a loose cigarette. You are not safe if you walk simply the dark staircase of your own building. Symptoms of mental illness could invite disproportionate force.
Racism and systematic extortion of poor blacks reflect when the cases of over-policing minor offenses were studied. In Ferguson, with African-American population of around 21,000 mostly, the city court registered thousands of arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses in 2012, raking in court fees and fines from those too poor to mount a legal defense. According to Washington Post, some municipalities in St. Louis County make 40 percent or more of their annual budget from the collection of fines for infractions as minor as playing loud music, disturbing the peace. Is it not shocking that in the country of high civilization, half of all black men by age 23 have been arrested for one minor crime or other. Out of 3,000 prisoners—65 percent of them black languish in prison for nonviolent crimes.
Injustice and discrimination is pervasive among law enforcing authorities in US even today. The periodic outbreaks of violence are just manifestation of the sickness of society. Every country including India has something to learn from this situation.
By: Naim Naqvi