By Arley Gill
I am not an expert on race relations in the United States of America; but I must admit as a black man, my interest was aroused over the last couple of weeks with the decisions of two grand juries and the response by the black communities and other conscientious Americans — many of them white.
I followed a bit of the history of the Civil Rights struggle in the US and the history of Rosa Parks, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. I have had a particular interest in Grenadian Malcolm X because his mother, Louise Norton Little, was born and raised in La Digue, St Andrew, migrated to Canada and later moved south to the US.
I am aware of the progress made in US race relations; but I’m also cognizant of the fact that there is still much work to be done to combat racism and racial discrimination.
The abolition of slavery and the slave trade — in the United States, Canada, Latin America and in Grenada and the rest of the Caribbean — did not automatically mean that the enslaved people were accepted by their oppressors. A good friend was reminding me of the justifiable compensation that the Jews have received for their maltreatment during their Holocaust, and he compared the consistent denial of reparations for blacks who suffered through genocidal slavery. That, in itself, is another story altogether.
However, how come the most powerful country in the world, the “Land of the Free and the Brave’’, could have such basic domestic issue — the apparent abuse of citizens’ civil rights by police — and seemingly refusing to deal with it?
It looks to me that having a black president, such as Barack Obama is, means very little and may be considered to be a token position after all. Let me say though, that after reading extensively on the Ferguson grand jury, which considered the evidence in the Michael Browne shooting death, it is difficult to see how the decision could be otherwise. It appears, for one, that many persons who went on television and said they were present at the scene of the shooting, actually were never there.
The truth of officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Browne is that there were many inconsistencies and inaccuracies that contradicted the scientific evidence. As a trained legal mind, it is difficult to see how the grand jury could have decided differently, and one ought not to be emotional about these things.
However, with the Long Island police chokehold death of Eric Garner, which involved a video and a proper audio of him saying, “I can’t breathe’’, it is hard to understand how the grand jury came to the decision they actually did, of not indicting the officer.
Moreover, the grand jury is one thing. Another is the investigations and the manner in which the cases are handled; they hardly seem to be fair and transparent and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned.
The other side of the coin is the behaviour of black Americans as well. In the Ferguson case, the victim Browne was not on his best behaviour on the day he was shot and killed. It appears that if he was, the entire confrontation with officer Wilson could have been avoided.
The violence and the burning of buildings and smashing of cars, which followed the Ferguson grand jury decision not to indict Wilson, could not be right. Then, again, there is the frustration of these persons who experience discrimination and racism every day. I, not being in such a position as they are in, may never understand how they feel living every day, day in and day out, and having to go through what they experience daily.
It seems to me that America needs to establish a Department of Race Relations; the same way they have a Department of Defence or a Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Something is wrong with the soul of the nation, and US authorities need to make a more concerted effort — each and every day — to better race relations, not just with blacks, but with all minorities.
When they do so, they will better understand how the Palestinians feel every day; how the Cubans feel about the US embargo; they’ll truly understand how poor people feel every day.
There is a lot of fixing to be done in the USA; and, maybe, it’s time that the United Nations takes a look into it. Malcolm X, the great Grenadian–American, was asking for that decades ago; that’s when he said that this was a Human Rights issue and not a Civil Rights issue.