The African-American community has long suspected that they have been profiled, unjustly pulled over and killed by the police for the most ridiculous reasons. The typical response of the police and the authorities has been that the cops acted in self-defense and the broader community of whites and other privileged sections of the society supported the cops. Things began to change from the people’s perspective for predominantly two reasons—(1) Many states passed laws which made it a requirement for the cops to wear lapel video cameras and what I would call (2) The smart phone factor.
But even after many incriminating videos of white police officers shooting, killing, maiming and abusing members of the black community began to surface at regular intervals, the police chiefs are in denial about racism in their ranks. Many of the white police officers presume that the African American community is violent and this view is entrenched among them. After getting fed up with seeing many young black men and women getting killed at the hands of the police the community has given shape to the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has organized protests in various cities in the US and in some major European cities after these harrowing killings. The struggle has the potential to emerge as a potent civil rights movement of the 21st century.
One would think that when African Americans advance through their struggles in life the profiling would stop. On a sunny afternoon one white man had this to say to a black cop on duty while in his uniform in Santa Fe—“man take care and avoid the sun; otherwise, you will become darker!” And for his part the cop says that when not in uniform and he gets pulled over, he makes it a point to pull down the windows and put both arms up. The plight of the black trauma surgeon in Dallas is even more revealing. When asked about his experiences with cops he said that he is friends with some as he interacts with them professionally. He has taken some of them to lunch but he also fears them. He has been pulled over multiple times because he drives a BMW. Even when there is a black man in the White House,successful black men driving new cars get pulled over around the country on a regular basis to verify if their papers are in order!
After the recent shooting death of a black young man by a cop in Milwaukee, Bassey Etim, a journalist at the New York Times newspaper who grew up in the black North Side of the city in the eighties and nineties says that Milwaukee is a city where the black middle class was literally paved over to build the freeway Interstate 94. He adds that the state of Wisconsin which comprises Milwaukee implemented a bunch of racist policies in effect making a section of humanity feel that their very existence in the city was resentful and even if they tried their best and succeeded in elevating their lives and circumstances their space in society would simply be paved over to make a roadway for people from the suburbs to pass them into downtown!
2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision reversing the ban on inter-racial marriages by various states in the US. The story of an inter-racial couple in the city of Baltimore where the majority are African Americans narrated by Rachel Swarns in the NY Times conveys a solemn grim message. The couple started praying for a girl when the woman, a black lawyer and the man, a white police officer were expecting their first baby because a lot of black men in Baltimore get killed at the hands of the cops for no good reason! But when a boy was born the mom who supports the Black Lives Matter movement started choreographing the following message for him. He should not bring unwanted attention on himself by doing things that white kids do all the time without incident, not run around in a hoodie and never cross into anybody’s yard to retrieve a ball, and promptly do whatever a cop tells him to do!
If this is the racial picture of the United States the caste and communal face of my country India mirrors all of this and much more. The recent suicide of Rohit Vemula who was pursuing a doctorate at the University of Hyderabad due to caste-based ostracism gave a wakeup call and exposed the persecution of students from backward and disadvantaged castes in the academia. In the broader society the problem has been deeply entrenched for many centuries and neither the national independence movement nor the subsequent policies promulgated by the governments at the center and various states mitigated the heinous influence of casteism and communalism. The record of the current prime minister’s home state of Gujarat is particularly appalling. With just two percent of India’s Dalit population the state ranks quite high in terms of atrocities committed on the Dalits. When Dalits are assaulted and even murdered the perpetrators who are members of the upper castes walk free—the conviction rate for these types of crimes is below four percent.
Social boycott and segregation of Dalits is rampant in the State of Gujarat and the state mirrors the rest of the country as Gujarat is proclaimed as one of the most “developed” in the country. It was reported recently that more than ninety percent of temples in Gujarat deny entry to Dalits and in the majority of Government schools Dalit children are made to sit separate from upper caste students. AndDalit-student practical training includes the task of cleaning school toilets also!
Two of the world’s greatest democracies seem to be in a race for the top spot in the art, science and sport of discrimination and segregation of their own peoples in the 21st century.©
Dr Subramani Mani is an associate professor in the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and currently resides in Albuquerque, NM, USA. He is a strong advocate of civil rights and human rights. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org