USA vs Americans
I T would be morally irrespon sible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
So said Martin Luther King Jr in March 1968, only weeks before he was assassinated. That was the USA in 1968 and in the USA of 2014, there are contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in its society. The protests, from coast to coast, from New York city to Los Angeles, which broke out following the failure to recognise the injustice of a policeman shooting an unarmed black American teenager have proven that America is as wracked by intolerable conditions almost 50 years after King’s words.
Little has changed and yet much has. While the government of the USA and its agencies continue to wage war under various guises all over the globe while preaching democracy and human rights, its society at home has become less free, economically poorer, more oppressed by state machinery, more subject to surveillance, scarcely represented by its elected officials, and ghettoised according to race and class. The new tipping point — only one of many in five decades — was the shooting dead of black teenager Michael Brown on August 9 by the policeman Darren Wilson in a suburb named Ferguson, near the city of St Louis, Missouri.
That incident provoked riots and a painful revisiting of the issue of race in the USA, but included critical appraisals of the new conditions (more jobless, deeper cuts in social welfare spending, more attempts by the state to criminalise communities of colour) in 21st century America. Ferguson had burned for a short while, but the expectation by the populace was that a new line had been crossed which demanded that the state examine its treatment of America’s blacks, especially by the police and para-military, and examine anew the conditions that had led to the August confrontations.
There was reason enough to do so. According to a study published by ProPublica — an independent non-profit organisation that produces investigative journalism in the public interest — in October 2014: “The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police. Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.”
For the state that is the USA, none of this seems to have mattered. American citizens routinely continue to buy, no questions asked, more guns and ammunition. State governors are swift to declare a state of emergency at the slightest provocation. National Guard forces are assembled with weaponry as if they are to fight an aggressor army, and local police are given lethal equipment that the US defence forces use, as if the neighbourhood citizens they are to serve are enemy combatants. While the line between state police and private corporate militias becomes more blurred, what is left of America’s independent media report FBI agents operating under cover inside protest movements.
In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown, ordinary American families renewed their demand for law and order, and a process of justice they could respect and abide by. But the USA’s police forces, like its defence forces in every far-flung corner of the world, have shown a consistent disrespect for the law and deal out violence with impunity. For over 100 days since the shooting in Ferguson those demanding justice held their peace and organised themselves — they are named Hands Up United, Lost Voices, Organization for Black Struggle, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United, and the like.
Now, rather than demonise these people, the administrators of America must stand back as communities rally peacably to find ways out of the violence, and so prove that the country can be true to the promise of a founding document, old but still living: its Constitution. Views expressed in Opinion columns and articles are those of our contributors and columnists. —Khaleej Times