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Black, White, Racism and ‘Law Enforcement’

By Robert Fantina - Posted on 09 December 2014

               The murder of black men by white police officers is nothing new in the United States. The fact that the media is taking notice is what is newsworthy. Despite Civil Rights laws enacted decades ago, racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of U.S. society.

                The recent cases of Eric Gardner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,  victims of horrendous cruelty and murder, only received coverage due to the outrage their deaths, and the almost immediate impunity their killers received, caused across the nation. But is white police brutality against blacks something new? Anecdotal evidence presented here indicates that that is hardly the case.

                In 1991, Rodney King was beaten by five members of the Los Angeles Police Department while additional officers watched. The entire incident was videotaped from the balcony of a nearby apartment building. Four officers were actually charged with assault; all four were acquitted, resulting in demonstrations across the country and riots in Los Angeles that killed 53 people and injured thousands. Only when the U.S. military was summoned did the riots cease (more on this below).

                Six years later, Abner Louima, a 30-year old Haitian, was arrested after he intervened to stop a fight outside a New York City nightclub before the police were called. When the police arrived, additional fighting began, and it was reported by a police officer that Mr. Louima struck him. That officer eventually said he was mistaken about who had hit him.

                Regardless, on the way to the police station, Mr. Louima was brutally beaten by the white, arresting police officers. Once at the station, he was beaten again, and eventually sodomized with a broom handle. He was hospitalized for three months after this incident.

               One officer, Justin Volpe, after being charged with multiple crimes, confessed to sodomizing Mr. Louima and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Another received a 15-year sentence which was overturned on appeal. Five years later he was convicted of perjury relating to the case, and sentenced to five years in prison.

              Three additional officers were charged with attempting to cover up the assault; two were convicted, but their convictions were overturned. One, who was not convicted, had been charged with covering up Mr. Volpe’s assault of Mr. Louima and another Haitian earlier that same night.

             On a February night in 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, heavily armed with a bag of Skittles, was shot to death by a local vigilante, George Zimmerman. Due to Florida’s barbaric gun laws, Mr. Zimmerman was not initially charged with any crimes; a person in Florida can shoot someone if he feels threatened by him, as Mr. Zimmerman said he felt threatened by a black teenager holding a bag of candies.  Six weeks after the shooting, amid thousands of protests across the country, he was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, but was acquitted after a four-week trial.

                But black males aren’t the only targets of racism; their female counterparts are equally marginalized. The term ‘missing white woman syndrome’ was coined to describe the almost obsessive media coverage a missing white woman generates (it helps if she is affluent and attractive, but either way, her situation is widely covered), whereas a missing black woman garners hardly a mention, if any news at all. One can probably, with little thought, think of the name of a missing white woman or girl whose disappearance was widely covered in the last few years (e.g. Elizabeth Smart), but for most people, naming a missing black woman will be far more difficult, if not impossible. It may be surprising to learn that, although African Americans account for only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for nearly 40 percent of missing citizens. Yet for the media, and therefore for most of the U.S. population, they are invisible.

                The murder of Mr. Brown has brought together what might, on first glance, be considered strange bedfellows.  Residents of Ferguson, Missouri have been offered support by Palestinians in the beleaguered Gaza Strip, another marginalized group that knows far too much about racism, with Ferguson responding with support for Gaza. The commonalities between the two are striking. Both face institutional racism by the United States: in Ferguson (and throughout the U.S.), white police officers kill black men with impunity. In Gaza, the U.S. provides the guns, bombs, tanks and other armaments for Israel to kill Palestinians with impunity.  And two (at least) of Ferguson’s law enforcement agencies have received training from the Israeli military.

                One might wonder why U.S. police departments feel a need to receive military training from a foreign nation, especially one known for its excessive brutality. If the police motto is still ‘to serve and protect’, this kind of training seems odd, indeed.

                The motto of the aforementioned Los Angeles Police Department had once been ‘to serve and protect’. However, a Supreme Court decision in 1981 rendered that moot. In that decision, the court said that”[t]he duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists." This is very puzzling, indicating that a ‘special relationship’ (whatever that means) is required for the police to protect an individual. This ruling came about after three women sued the Washington D.C. police department for not providing assistance after they were called to the women’s home, when two men were raping and beating one of the women. Two women in another part of the house, who mistakenly thought the police had entered the house, were discovered by the assailants, and all three where held captive for fourteen hours, during which time they were savagely beaten and sexually assaulted. The police had arrived, looked around, never entered the house, and departed. A second call, to 911 prior to the two assailants’ discovery of the two additional women in the house, was never forwarded to police.

                So with the protection of individuals not a concern, perhaps U.S. police departments now limit their services to riot control; if so, getting training from a brutal, racist regime probably makes some kind of twisted sense. The need to call out the military, as was done in Los Angeles after the acquittals in the Rodney King case, is no longer necessary, when the local police have the same equipment and training to use on uppity U.S. citizens that the U.S. military uses to overthrow governments and kill hundreds of thousands of ‘foreign’ people, people who the military is trained to see as inferior.

                Israel and the U.S. have too long believed their own public relations campaigns. Israel proclaims to have ‘the most moral army in the world’, even as it kidnaps and kills unarmed men, women and children, and bombs homes, mosques, hospitals and United Nations refugee centers.  The U.S. calls itself the ‘home of the free’, but its freedoms are limited to wealthy white citizens who can afford to pay for the privilege of acting however they choose. And often (always?), such actions are in direct contradiction to the needs of the majority of citizens.

                Sadly, the number of Michael Browns and Eric Gardners is astronomical, and there will be countless more in the future. As so-called law enforcement agencies receive training from a brutal, racist government, and as the U.S. government continues to allow police officers to murder African-Americans with impunity, needless, tragic deaths like those of the victims mentioned herein will continue.


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