Rallying with the peaceful protesters in US
THE EDITOR, Madam:
A minority of social media users have voiced dismay that West Indians are fixated on opining about the injustice of George Floyd’s death due to police brutality. Some West Indians bemoan that CARICOM nations also face issues of racial inequality, exemplified in our young black men being profiled by the police.
Notwithstanding, the continuum of injustice perpetuated by the police in its treatment of African-American young men is unprecedented in the African diaspora. Also, many West Indians have families in the US and fear a future in which their relatives will face systemic discrimination. Furthermore, the United States of America (USA) has a proven track record of admonishing developing nations that perpetuate human-rights abuses. It is therefore crucial for an equitable discourse on global civil society that we analyse the possible reasons for police brutality in the USA.
My first argument to justify the outrage of US protesters is linked to the fact that the US police have been responsible for the gruesome deaths and beatings of many black men, through the unwarranted use of force. In my lifetime, the Rodney King beatings led to the LA Riots of 1992, which I considered to be a watershed moment to probe and reform institutionalised racism. But I was distracted by the rise of black entertainment and the emergence of black politicians and Supreme Court officials. The audacity of hope that Barack Obama’s presidency ushered in was countered by an onslaught of police attacks on young black men. In fact, from January 2015 to now, there have been 1,252 black men who have been shot and killed by the police. This figure excludes those who died in police custody and those who were killed by other police methods, such as the tragic fate of George Floyd.
The reasons for the US police’s choice of questionable treatment of blacks do not stack up with reality. Floyd was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 note. The unreasonable suspicions of black men paint a picture of a skewed justice system. For example, in 2014 Eric Garner was intercepted and subjected a lethal chokehold after playing peacemaker by breaking up a fight. The jury acquitted the police officers, even though there was video footage.
Second, African Americans remain socially marginalised by the police in spite of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After signing such key legislation, US President Lyndon Johnson himself lamented that the US Government and even the Civil Rights Movement needed to focus on education and poverty reduction. Sadly, Johnson’s policy of a ‘War on Poverty’ was not sustained by future presidents. In recent times, Obamacare has been pegged back by Trump. Disturbingly, the frustrations of the African-American community that face low wages, unemployment and underemployment may highlight a sense of despair and hopelessness.
Third, the African-American community has been more susceptible to the pandemic shocks in terms of morbidity and lay-offs. So, it is understandable that some African Americans are disenchanted with the police and elements of the status quo.
I cannot condone the rioting and looting by angry mobs, who are upset with the police. I admit that this form of rebellion takes away from the genuine need to peacefully protest, which is still occurring by a wide cross section of Americans. But we must appreciate that centuries of racism have never truly been removed. Since the Washington March of 1963, blacks are not able to truly proclaim: ‘Free at last!’