Friday, 8 July 2016

U.S.: Analysis-''Black Lives Matter'' Protests

Institutionalized racism has been a major issue since the colonial era and the slave era. It remains a major phenomenon and continues to be reflected in socio-economic inequality and has taken more modern forms of expression, most prevalently symbolic racism. Institutionalized racism in United States occurs in employment, housing, education, and police force.

The killing of Philando Cacstille, 32, who was shot by a police officer after a traffic stop on Wednesday evening, prompted Minnesota governor Mark Dayton to order a state investigation. 
Castile's death occurred within a day of shooting of 37 year old Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling was killed during an altercation with two white police officers. Graphic video of that incident triggered protests and and outcry on social media. 

Castile's girlfriend, Diamonds Reynolds, videotaped the minutes immediately following his shooting and posted it in on Facebook. Castile, who was driving, was shot with Reynolds and her 4 year old daughter in the car. The graphic video showed blood oozing through Castile's shirt as he appeared to lose consciousness.The deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling prompted thousands to march and chant across Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Dallas and Atlanta, Thursday evening, and more than 1,000 protesters gathered in New York's Time Square. 

Dozens of protesters, mostly young people, blocked traffic on highway in Chicago. They marched with arms linked, chanting: '' it is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win, We must love and support each other. we have nothing to lose but our chains''.  Another thousand rallied in Washington at the White House, then marched to the US Capitol where veteran civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis stood on the steps and addressed the crowd through a bullhorn.. In Dallas five police officers were killed and six others wounded by snipers in chaotic scenes during a protest against police shooting of black men, with a suspect warning that bombs were planted throughout the city center.

The US Police officers have killed at least 136 black people in 2016. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling became the latest addition to the list. Based on counted data, Black males between the ages of 15 and 34 are nine  time more likely to be killed by police than any other demographic. This group also accounted for 15% of all 2016 deaths from law enforcement encounters, despite making up just 2% of the United States population.

Pointing out the precariousness of black life in the United States, a recent report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement noted that “police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extra-judicially killed at least 1,513 African-Americans last year.

The violence inflicted on black people by police has sparked many calls for reform--mainly the diversifying of America's predominantly white police force. But the violence can overflow into black civilians's interactions with black officers as well. A 2007 study found that black Washington residents felt as though black cops treated them more harshly than white officers did.

The use of force by police against African Americans in cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore and New York has sparked periodic and sometimes violent protests in the past two years, and has spawned a movement called ''Black Lives Matter''. Anger has intensified when the officers involved in such incidents have been acquitted or not charged at all.

The shooting of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and hundreds more before them, are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within the US criminal justice, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve, and most importantly the “national security state” logic.

With the violent policing of American black communities traceable back to the “slave patrols” of the early 18th century, the origins of the U.S. national security state are particularly deep-rooted and brutal. Yet although the context is different, the United States’ history of settler-colonialism and techniques of racial and economic domination yield many similarities with Israel’s methods on Palestinians. Importantly, both states operate according to a “national security state” logic, in which  a host of violent as well as mundane administrative practices result in physical harm and limits to individual and group freedoms.

Linked to the notion of a “state of exception,” a context in which a state claims leeway to violate a host of legal and constitutional norms, the national security state requires a dehumanized “Other” to sustain its politics of fear. Those constructed as “Other” are deemed threatening not on the basis of their actions, but rather on the basis of their identity. In other words, it is not what they do, but who they are (Black.) that matters in determining whether a criminal act has been committed. 

The national security state is characterized by increased restrictions on speech, association, and privacy; the targeting of balcks; the criminalization of entire communities; and an expanded role for the military and intelligence agencies in civil life, including through the militarization of the police and the use of violence against civilian populations.

These phenomena, which have been part of U.S. forms of control, have come under the media spotlight in recent years. Protests in Ferguson over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and lines of riot police in military-style body armor. Although this particular killing attracted national attention, it was by no means novel. In a sense of ''Déjá vú'', these phenomena are repeating themselves again this week with the shooting of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

''Black Lives Matter'' protest, in the streets of Los Angeles, Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore, Ferguson, has been met with violence, leading several shocked African Americans protesters to compare the US police to Israeli occupation forces. Drawing his own parallels, Stanford senior Kristian Davis Bailey describes this situation as a “dystopic mashup of the pass laws Blacks faced in apartheid South Africa and the cruel humiliation of the Jim Crow South.”

As sociologist Lisa Hajjar argues, “One way a government can project the appearance of acting in accordance with the law is to produce interpretations that the law does not apply.”  The United States have used such legal obfuscation and evasion, as well as the elaboration and adoption of new laws, to justify police brutality, and very often the police officers, responsible for these shootings are not convicted, let alone being charged. It is often not violations of the law, but rather the law itself that functions as a tool of power.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: -''Black Lives Matter'' Protesters in Ferguson