Police brutality in the United States, especially against African-Americans, is a bleeding wound. Despite large protests and the soothing statements of President Obama, the situation seems to be getting worse. Shocking cases of police violence keep surfacing and the inexplicable increase in such incidents point to the presence of a deep problem in American society. Regrettably, some of the horrible scenes that have drawn public attention are likely only the tip of the iceberg.
Having lived through one of the worst epochs of racism in history, the USA has no doubt come a long way and become one of the leaders of democracy and human rights. The great achievement it has made recently culminating in the election of its first African-American president, especially after such a history, is highly commendable.
However, all these good developments can’t mask the fact that there is still a menacing, a very deeply seated problem. This came to public attention with the horrific beating of Rodney King by five police officers. Violence perpetrated by the police against African-Americans has increased over years and now reached a boiling point. The situation is so severe now that, according to The Guardian,i
one black man dies every 28 hours due to police violence across the US.
When Rodney King was violently beaten by five police officers almost twenty years ago, his assailants were acquitted. This led to the L.A. riots of 1992, causing
53 deaths, some at the hands of police. After that, police brutality continued with even more shocking incidents, some of which are briefly mentioned below:
Milton Hall, a 49-year-old black homeless man, was shot 46 times by what was essentially a firing squad of eight police officers. The reports stated that he was ‘armed’ with a penknife. The incident was captured on camera. ii
a 6-year old autistic boy was killed instantly, when two police officers fired shots at his father’s car, as his father is seen in camera holding up his hands in surrender.
Asthmatic Eric Garner was put in a chokehold by officers who suspected of him selling untaxed cigarettes. He died screaming, “I can’t breathe!” v
12-year-old African-American Tamir Rice was shot twice by the police. He was holding a toy gun. vi
Marlene Pinnock was punched repeatedly in the head by a police officer after she resisted his orders. The incident was caught on camera by a passer-by.vii
Edgar Vargas Arzate was savagely beaten after he surrendered. He was later charged with assaulting an officer. viii
These and other more known cases like the shooting of Michael Brown and the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, demonstrate an intense prejudice that needs to be addressed without further ado.
Perhaps even worse, such incidents are usually kept under the wraps, covered up, and when they rarely do come to public attention, the officers involved are usually acquitted. Indeed, it is no secret that police officers are indicted in less than 1% of such incidents, while the indictment rate for private citizens is 90
As one would imagine, such a disturbing trend cannot be an isolated phenomena. It is being fed by a widespread tendency in the society. Indeed, this is the case as regrettably discrimination and stereotyping are still very much alive across the country.
It seems that such discrimination starts at ix
black preschoolers are far more likely to be suspended than white children, while in kindergarten through the second grade, black children are three times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. In the workplace, black college graduates are twice as likely as whites to struggle to find jobs. A study even found that people with “black-sounding names” had to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with “white-sounding names” just to get a call-back. About 73 percent of whites own homes, compared to only 43 percent of blacks.
The gap between median wealth for whites (about $91,000) compared to blacks (about $7,000) is staggering, and that gap has tripled in just the past 25 years. The median net worth of white families is about $265,000, while it was just $28,500 for blacks. A black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop, and six times more likely to go jail than a white person. If a black person kills a white person, they are twice as likely to receive the death sentence as a white person who kills a black person. Local prosecutors are much more likely to upgrade a case to felony murder if you’re black than if you’re white. Qualified black jurors are illegally turned away as much as 80 percent of the time in the jury selection process.
Despite all these worrying numbers and facts, a substantial precaution has yet to be taken and the wound keeps bleeding ever more profusely.
However, to the outside world, the USA seems to be a staunch defender of justice, democracy, equality, human rights and peace, so much so that it declares wars, launches military campaigns and applies sanctions to this end. This serves to create a very stark contrast to what is going on in the USA; it also creates doubts about the sincerity of its actions overseas.
There is no doubt that the US administration is uncomfortable with the situation and is aware of its dangerous implications. And despite the fact that there are measures taken to curb the problem, they are clearly insufficient and the problem rages on. Ignoring discrimination and racism and subjecting a particular group to continuous injustice, might have catastrophic results and start a chain of events bringing the entire US society down, together with its economy. It is actually not difficult to see that the ominous protests can easily kick start this dangerous scenario.
For this reason, it is imperative that Obama administration takes swift action, by properly acknowledging the situation. Through stricter laws that hold officers accountable, incorporating in police training strong moral principles based on the notion that every human life, regardless of ethnicity, background, faith or race, is precious, valuable and merits equally respectable treatment, and perhaps more importantly, tackling deep-running menace of the hate culture in the American society will help end this problem for good. When the solution starts with love, everything will eventually fall back into place.
It is important that the USA, the champion of human rights and democracy remembers and rediscovers the very values that made it the superpower of the world today. Only then will its efforts for justice and democracy be more successful and only then will all of its citizens, regardless of their color, background or faith, find the happiness and justice they so truly need.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Ekurd Daily: