THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 15 AUGUST, 2014
Racism Rears its Ugly Head in the US
Riots in Ferguson
NEW DELHI: The death of Michael Brown, who was shot dead by a police officer in broad daylight, has refocused attention on civil rights, racial profiling and police brutality in the United States, with thousands of protesters taking to the streets in Ferguson, St. Louis.
Eighteen year old Brown was reportedly walking, unarmed, from a convenience store to his grandmother’s apartment in Ferguson, when a police officer shot and killed him. Eyewitness accounts suggest that Brown was cooperative, raising his arms when the officer shot at him multiple times. The police version notes a struggle, saying that Brown attempted to get hold of the officer’s gun.
Following Brown’s death, thousands of people took the streets to ask for justice, with personal accounts of people feeling targeted by the policy on the basis of their race, emerging. The incident, seems to be a trigger, representing years of frustration and marginalisation. Ferguson is a city of 21,000 people - 67 percent of whom are black. However, 94 percent of the police force, and most prominent figures in local government, including the mayor, are white.
The local police managed to add insult to injury by using heavy handed tactics including tear gas, gunfire and petrol bombs, to curb the protests. The protests started peacefully, but quickly escalated in response to the police’s actions, with protesters chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “We Are Peaceful.”
Journalists were prevented from reporting from the ground, with the Al Jazeera America crew being attacked by tear gas, and journalists from the Washington Post and Huffington Post being detained.
US President Barack Obama was quick to condemn the incident, and the local police’s handling of the protests that followed. "I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” the US President said.
After four nights of violence -- where Ferguson came to represent a war zone of sorts -- the state police stepped in and took charge of security in the area on Thursday.
Although peace seems to have returned to the community, with tear gas being replaced by candlelight, the issue of racial profiling and discrimination is once again at the forefront. The shooting of Michael Brown is being compared to the shooting of 17-year old unarmed Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a neighbourhood watch captain. The shooter was eventually acquitted of murder in a racially charged case.
Other parallels have been drawn as well. The killing of 17-year old Jordan Davis, who was, along with his friends, shot at by a man for playing “loud music.” The jury convicted the shooter on four counts, but not on the count of murder, with many attributing the verdict to a racial context -- the shooter being white and the teenagers, including Davis who died, being black.
The most apparent parallel however, are the Los Angeles riots of 1992 -- where the trigger was the brutal police beating of Rodney King, which was videotaped and widely covered but ended in the acquittal of the officers concerned. The Ferguson protests, much like the LA riots of 1992, may have been a reaction to an immediate trigger, but are located in a far broader context of marginalisation and discrimination.