Although most news outlets sanitize it, the United States is, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1967, the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. This is manifested by drone strikes, which in the last ten years have killed at least 5,000 people, only an estimated 150 of whom were the actual targets; the remainder were ‘collateral damage’; by the bombing of suspected ISIS sites in Iraq; bombing of Syria; financial and military support for the apartheid regime of Israel; continued war against Afghanistan, and several other examples. Nothing has changed in decades; the statement about violence was true when Dr. King said it, it had been true for years before and it remains true today.
But the violence of the U.S. society is not limited to the operation of its deadly, destructive military machine abroad; U.S. cities are nearly as vulnerable. Whereas the U.S. military targets mainly Muslim populations, the internal violence is mainly, although not entirely, directed at the young, male, African-American population.
From Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to Eric Garner in New York, and countless others, black males are simply not safe from the white law enforcement establishment. In New York, following the death of Mr. Garner, City Councilman Jumaane D. Williams said this: “Garner joins a list that every male of more color in New York City knows they are a candidate for and every mother of more color dreads.” Mr. Garner, the police say, had a history of selling untaxed cigarettes, certainly, one would think, not the most important crime the NYPD (New York Police Department) should be fighting, and certainly not a capital offense. Yet Mr. Garner was charged, tried and executed on the spot, with a Grand Jury then determining that the police who executed him had committed no crime.
This is unsurprising in the U.S. Generations ago, young and older blacks in the south were publicly lynched; this was, apparently, a source of entertainment. No one, ever, was convicted of any of these murders. Convictions of white police officers for the killing of unarmed black males are rare. One example is telling.
In San Francisco on January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant was handcuffed and lying face-down when Officer Johannes Mehserle shot him in the back. In addition to being handcuffed, Mr. Grant was unarmed. He died the following day from the gunshot wound. Mr. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to two years in prison, given double credit for time already served (a common practice in California, due to the overcrowding of prisons), resulting in a sentence of less than seven months for the death of Mr. Grant.
In 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, armed with a bag of Skittles and a soft drink, was gunned down by self-appointed neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, when Mr. Martin was walking from a convenience store to his father’s home. When Mr. Zimmerman first spotted Mr. Martin, he called 911, described the ‘suspicious’ behavior of Mr. Martin, which apparently consisted at least partly of walking along a sidewalk while wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He reported a “real suspicious guy” who was “just walking around looking about” in the rain. Further, using his clairvoyant abilities, he said that “This guy looks like he is up to no good”. Mr. Zimmerman was known to the police, having logged dozens of calls to them over the years to report such disturbances as potholes, open garage doors, and children playing in the street. He was told specifically by the police dispatcher not to confront Mr. Martin. He ignored that advice.
Within a few minutes of that call, Mr. Martin was dead.
Only after extreme public pressure was Mr. Zimmerman charged with second-degree murder. The trial lasted three weeks, and after a day of deliberations, he was found to be not guilty.
On March 7, 2015, President Barack Obama, nothing if not a great orator, spoke in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’, when demonstrators seeking voting rights were met with police violence. He said, in part: “What they did here will reverberate through the ages, not because the change they won was preordained, not because their victory was complete, but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.” It is certainly true that their victory wasn’t complete; voting rights today are under attack, but even at a more basic level, black lives are devalued in U.S. society, and Mr. Obama, who is in a position to rectify that, at least from a legal standpoint, does nothing. His pretty words simply don’t help.
It may be cliché to ask what this says about modern U.S. society, but the question must be asked. And it isn’t just males who are impacted by this overt, institutionalized racism. The term ‘missing white woman syndrome’ was coined by PBS news anchor Gwen Ifill. It describes the fact that a missing white woman, especially if she is young and upper-middle-class, receives a far disproportionate amount of publicity compared to missing women of color. Men of color who may be missing are all but ignored. It is likely that, asking any random group of adults, they could name one or two white women who have been reported missing in the last few years. It is highly unlikely that they could name a woman of color who was so reported. That may not be entirely their fault; if such women never make the news, there is no way they could know of them, unless personally acquainted.
So how does police and judicial racism at home correlate to racist wars abroad? There are at least two pertinent areas:
* In U.S. wars, soldiers are trained to see the ‘enemy’ as less than human; it may be difficult for a soldier to kill a human being, but if the person at the far end of the gun, or targeted by a drone, is seen as not quite human, the task isn’t nearly as difficult. U.S. police, with the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that is prevalent among so-called law enforcement, are able to see people who look different (e.g. people of color) as less than human.
* Many U.S. police departments have received training from the Israeli military. This military, completely financed by the U.S., is renowned as one of the most violent, racist, brutal and deadly on the planet today. Israeli military members, who are nothing more than terrorists, see Arabs as less than human; this is built into the laws of the country, and practiced on a daily basis against the Palestinians.
The violence that Dr. King spoke of so many years ago remains with us, unabated. Whether in the form of a drone strike, killing and terrorizing innocent people in Yemen, or manifested as a white police officer gunning down an unarmed black youth, it must be combatted and stopped. No country that purports to support freedom, as the U.S. disingenuously does, can allow such atrocities to continue.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).