Saturday, 20 June 2015

How United is America?

by Lauren Robson-Skeete

Mourners remembering the nine members of the Emanuel church
in Charleston, SC, shot dead by white supremacist Dylann Roof
Racial tensions in the United States are reaching disproportional levels since the eruption of the Michael Brown case and subsequent innocent killings - most typically a white officer targeting members of the black community. The abhorrent number of incidents appearing on the news is all too worrying as it is quickly becoming the ‘norm’ to witness yet another death in the media. 

In a recent survey conducted by Gallup it was found that in the beginning of 2014 the most important problem facing the US considered by black Americans was race relations at 3% and this rapidly surged to 13% by 2015 (see chart below). Comparatively, only 1% of white Americans viewed this as the most pressing issue and the figures only rose to 4% as being the most important problem facing the US. Interestingly, these statistics alone, if only on a relatively small scale, highlight the stark divide in culture in America and the poignant epidemic of violent deaths of black people in America - proving just how disunited the ‘United’ States of America is.

These issues came to the forefront after eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot twelve times in Ferguson by officer Darren Wilson.  Wilson was acquitted of his death despite disputable evidence (particularly as Brown was unarmed). The media surrounding this case propelled the issue, and subsequently peaceful and violent protest erupted out of outrage at the verdict and even after such a tragedy the Ferguson police force's handling of the protesters was criticised for being unnecessarily brutal. Simultaneously, it sparked a number of questions concerning police bias and corruption coupled with the problems surrounding the use of guns and their very real consequences. Seemingly, lessons can and should be learned from other advanced countries where gun control is far tighter and clearly there is a strong correlation between the carrying of guns and the number of deaths.

In some cases, however, it is plausible to argue that to a certain degree (perhaps if critiqued and examined thoroughly in the areas where there is discontent) that the police officers’ acquittals could be justified due to lack of evidence. However, it is unequivocally clear that there is an overwhelming police bias as only in the past month video evidence of Walter Scott (who was unarmed) running away from officer Michael Slager in south Carolina showed him being killed after being shot eight times. Critically in this case the officer was charged with murder, but it still elicits the question as to why only with absolute undisputable evidence (like video footage) will an officer be charged with murder, whereas in other situations there would be far greater insight into finding out the truth had the victim not been black.

Additionally, nine more innocent people were shot dead by Dylann Roof only this week, as they were praying in a historical African American church - the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston - a place that should provide devout protection. This vicious attack is being treated as a hate crime by the police. It would be thought that these horrific problems would signify an end to the issue but with an all-too-recent attack, particularly in such a holy setting such as a church, the land of the free does not seem to be very free at all.

In 2015, it is truly abhorrent to have an escalating racial problem reminiscent of the early civil rights struggle which was recently depicted in the movie 'Selma' . The fact that film viewers should be reflecting upon parallels between events that took place half a century ago to the present situation in America is incomprehensible. America’s obsolete systems immediately need to be rectified to avoid future atrocities and racial prejudice. It seems as if all incidents are treated on a case-by-case basis and there is no fortifying willingness to resolve these issues and develop stricter gun control and measures to tackle racial issues; instead there is just an atmosphere of despondency prevailing. A fundamental change needs to take place; how many more deaths of innocent lives need there be before more stringent controls are put into effective practice?

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