Fer­gu­son anger rooted in racial in­equal­ity

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Iwas walk­ing past Free­dom Plaza on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue in­Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day af­ter­noon and sawa group of peo­ple were stag­ing a die-in. The two dozen young men and women, of all races, were protest­ing the Mon­day night grand jury decision in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, not to in­dict Dar­ren Wilson, a white po­lice of­fi­cer who fa­tally shot black teenager Michael Brown in Au­gust.

On Tues­day evening, angry pro­test­ers in­Wash­ing­ton also burned a US flag out­side the Amer­i­can Por­trait Gallery near Chi­na­town. Such were just two of the many protests and some ri­ots that have taken place in many US ci­ties in the last two days. Protests have ac­tu­ally never stopped in Fer­gu­son in the 110 days since 18-year-old Brown was shot six times on Aug 9.

The de­ploy­ment of thou­sands of Na­tional Guard mem­bers, the use of tear gas and the hun­dreds of ar­rests made by the po­lice also show how tense the re­la­tion­ship is be­tween pro­test­ers and lawen­force­ment.

The de­bates in the United Stated have heav­ily fo­cused on the loop­holes in the grand jury decision, and how truth­ful Dar­ren Wilson was in telling his story on ABC News on Tues­day. But the outburst of anger across the US re­flects only one thing — peo­ple’s deep frus­tra­tion with the na­tion’s racial in­equal­ity.

While such in­equal­ity is masked on the sur­face by Barack Obama be­ing elected and re­elected as the first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, it of­ten quickly reaches boil­ing point when trig­gered by in­ci­dents such as the ones re­gard­ing Brown or Trayvon­Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager shot and killed in Florida in 2012.

Obama has tried to high­light the progress of racial re­la­tions in his speeches, yet his frus­tra­tion was ap­par­ent when he said in July last year that, “Trayvon­Martin could have been me 35 years ago”. He ex­pressed sim­i­lar frus­tra­tion on Mon­day night when he said that “the frus­tra­tions that we’ve seen are not just about a par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent. They have deep roots in many com­mu­ni­ties of color who have a sense that our laws are not al­ways be­ing en­forced uni­formly or fairly”.

The sad re­al­ity is that ev­ery African-Amer­i­can, in­clud­ing Obama, has ex­pe­ri­enced some kind of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in their lives. I still re­call the story told me by the 16-year-old son of the AfricanAmer­i­can host fam­ily I lived with in Detroit in 1998. An ex­cel­lent stu­dent, he felt deeply hurt and an­gered to see a white woman sud­denly hold­ing her purse tight while see­ing him pass­ing by, as if he were a rob­ber.

The fam­ily, a mid­dle class one of cer­ti­fied pub­lic ac­coun­tant par­ents, still talked about how they haven’t for­got­ten the his­tory of slav­ery suf­fered by their great-grand­mother.

Statis­tics show that the wealth gap be­tween white and AfricanAmer­i­can fam­i­lies has tripled in the past three decades from 1984 to 2009. In ev­ery­thing from em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and pay to health­care and home own­er­ship, African- Americans are of­ten at the bot­tom of so­ci­ety. And while ac­count­ing for only 12.6 per­cent of the US pop­u­la­tion, African-Americans make up 38 per­cent of the prison pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try.

The days when Rosa Parks fought to end seg­re­ga­tion may have long gone, yet it’s no sur­prise any­more to walk into many Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties and schools th­ese days to be re­minded that de facto seg­re­ga­tion still ex­ists widely in a na­tion which lauds it­self for up­hold­ing hu­man rights.

In his in­au­gu­ra­tion speech in Jan­uary last year, Obama made im­mi­gra­tion, cli­mate change, gun con­trol and job cre­ation the top pri­or­i­ties for his sec­ond term, he clearly missed that halt­ing the wors­en­ing racial in­equal­ity should also be high on the agenda. It would be a per­fect legacy for an AfricanAmer­i­can pres­i­dent. The au­thor, based in­Wash­ing­ton, is deputy ed­i­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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