USA vs Americans

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS -

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

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