Editorial

Behind the Trayvon Martin saga

Wednesday, April 04, 2012    

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THE Western world has consistently claimed to be the most advanced countries in democracy and human rights, and on the basis of this specious claim, often denigrate the rest of the world as “backward”, “undemocratic”, lacking “human rights”, and “intolerant”.

Europeans and Americans are unapologetically proud of their human rights standards and pressure the rest of the world to emulate them. And yet, the institutionalised practice of racism has stubbornly persisted in these so-called civilised societies, systematically perpetuated on racial minorities, especially black people.

The killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in Florida has once again raised the issue of racial profiling and racism by police officers. Whether this is a case of murder is yet to be established, but the racism is evident in the tardiness of the authorities in investigating the incident. It certainly fits as excessive use of force.

Corrective action is scarcely taken when there is physical abuse and excessive force applied to black people even when there is indisputable evidence. This was illustrated in the infamous Rodney King beating which was caught on film.

The police officer who arrested Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates in his house refused to admit that he had done anything wrong and would not apologise even after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. No disciplinary action was ever taken.

The British public is still recovering from the shock of the racist killing of Mr Stephen Lawrence, whose killers were brought to justice almost 20 years later. The venerable Scotland Yard is under fire because a black man used his mobile phone to record a vicious tirade of abuse by police officers. In addition to calling him a nigger in the recording, an officer recounted his physical abuse of the victim who was handcuffed at the time. No one has been prosecuted or disciplined.

No black person, regardless of position, including holders of diplomatic immunity, is exempt from the possibility of abuse. The ambassador of St Vincent to the United Nations, a lawyer by training, was arrested recently by New York City police upon entering the building which houses his diplomatic mission.

The ambassador did not identify himself when challenged by a police officer, but he was identified by security personnel and other diplomats. The officer followed him into the building, “grabbed him by the neck and shoulders, arrested and handcuffed him, and accused him of disorderly conduct”.

Even President Obama is subject to verbal abuse in the sacred confines of Congress. Clearly, we cannot all get along, but when these abuses occur appropriate disciplinary action must be taken.

More importantly, these so-called civilised societies must find a way to expunge what Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree calls “the presumption of guilt” which has its roots in racism and is all too common.

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