I originally wrote this article for Ananda Bazar Patrika, Calcutta’s leading daily newspaper. You can read the published Bengali oped here.
In 1964, America passed the historic Civil Rights Act. Fifty years later, in 2014, the Ferguson incident proved that this country did not move much.
Bronx, New York, black immigrant student Amadou Diallo was taking his wallet out of his pocket at his doorstep. Police officers thought he was taking out a gun. Forty-one bullets riddled his body. Judgement: all the policemen were acquitted.
Sean Bell, Queens, New York, a black man on the night before his wedding was coming out of a wild bachelor party. His car hit a police vehicle. What an audacity! More police cars came in no time. Pumped fifty bullets in him. Judgement: all policemen acquitted.
A report from the last seven years shows that on an average two black Americans are killed every week in the hands of white policemen. Huffington Post reports that 99 per cent of the country’s police brutality is not investigated in the state of New Jersey. (And New Jersey is one of the “liberal” Democratic state.)
The Ferguson incident, therefore, is not isolated. White police officer Darren Wilson is not brought under charges for the murder of Michael Brown. Wilson is acquitted. With the acquittal came an outbreak of violence, cars were burned, petrol bombs hurled, ammunitions were fired: all well-known images. Known story. Recognized injustice. There is not too much of a difference between the riots on the streets of America and the riots in India.
On August 9 at noon on the outskirts of St. Louis in the predominantly black-inhabited Ferguson, an eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was running away after stealing a box of cigars. Officer Darren Wilson was dispatched by wireless to catch Brown. Later it came out, that none of the store employees called police. Nobody watched the surveillance video in the shop before Brown was killed. As a result, there are pertinent doubts about the authenticity of the official statement.
The official statement says, Wilson, on a different case, was on patrol in the area in his car. Following the message from his department and GPS he saw Michael Brown and his companions on the street and asked them to stop. No one knows what happened thereafter. According to Wilson’s statement, Brown disobeyed the police, and not only that, rushed in and punched Wilson in the face. As a result, Wilson was forced to fire his gun from within his car, and Brown died was killed. Other witnesses said, however, that Brown was quite far away when Wilson shot and killed him.
At the end of November came the judgment. Twelve members of the grand jury based on evidence, statements, assorted physical examination, autopsy, post-mortem etc. declared Wilson innocent.
The country erupted with turbulent protests and violence. On one hand, the police and the military came down with machine guns, tear gas; on the other, Amnesty International taking note of the gross human rights violation sent their team down to Ferguson. Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder asked the nation to restore peace. Obama and Holder are both black.
Question is, why this happens again and again? The reason is not unknown: extreme poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, sky-high economic inequality, and consequent frustration. But on U.S. media, any such discussions are absent. No discussion on the fact that out of the developed nations, USA now is the worst place. The much talked-about “American Dream” has ended long ago.
Noam Chomsky mentioned in a recent conversation with me that what started as a tarnished chapter by exterminating native Indians continued in the next chapter by brutalizing the black folks. Half a century before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the immigration reform act came soon after. But where is equality? One million black people in America are spending their time in jail, many without trial. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said that more blacks in America are in prison than blacks in college. Noam Chomsky has spoken about this internal violence in USA as well as America’s global violence. Big media have ostracized him.
Ferguson. New York. Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida. Los Angeles police tortured Rodney King. Here in New York, police pushed a broom handle in the anus of Haitian immigrant Abnar Louima. American Civil Liberties Union, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and such groups have kept track of these brutalities. But there are more events that are hardly reflected anywhere. They remain invisible to the eye. Yes, school, college, stores, markets, bus, train or plane have whites and blacks together. No one is thrown out of a white-only bathroom anymore. On Wall Street and the stock market, black people are at high places, and black faces are visible in the world of art, music, and theater. But a large number of Americans still carry on with this discrimination, especially in the so-called Bible Belt: Texas, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Indiana, Wyoming, the Dakotas. Blacks and new immigrants live here with constant fear.
According to Noam Chomsky, a large number of White Americans are perpetually frightened. They believe that blacks and immigrants from Mexico and other countries are destroying this what some conservatives call “God’s Nation.” This justifies the storing of guns and ammunitions in their homes, which are easily available in Wal-Mart and many local gun shops. And we all know their consequences.
If Barrack Obama can happen in this country, it also has Tea Party gaining support. Even the notorious Ku Klux Clan is much active, supported by Tea Party demagogues and far right-wing Republicans.
It is perhaps normal to think that the Indian immigrant Diaspora will be supportive of the equality and justice cause. But oddly surprising is the thoughts of equality preserved by the Indian Immigrants. There is an anomalous attitude of being nonchalant on issues of discrimination and hatred for blacks; same mindset regarding immigrants from other countries. I have never heard non-discriminating or sympathetic views about them. Almost everyone tends to settle out of black neighborhoods. When they come to visit us in Brooklyn, many are alarmed at the presence of blacks.
The American saga of racism, discrimination and violence on the poor goes on.
English Translation: J. Bagchi.