We have developed a fear culture. Here is a community that faces mass incarceration, violence and general mistrust for the police. And, on the other side, we have the men in blue, working long hours amidst criminals, conflicts and fearing their own safety. They react in a way that is indoctrinated in them from years past, with limited means of defence when faced with a very tense and volatile situation. Sukanya agonises the death dance of violence. Offensives and counteroffensives are not the answer as both sides stand red in tooth and claw. An exclusive in Different Truths.
The world is in an apocalyptic state now. Fight amongst warring religious groups, ethnicity, races, everyone seems to be up in arms against one another. And with that there has been an increase in intolerance, fear, a general dislike and a lack of empathy. Recently, I was extremely disturbed by the killings in Dhaka. That was in the backyard of my other home, it hit me real close. Beautiful, strong people had to give up their lives – just like that.
Then as I was recovering from it, I saw graphic images of a man being pinned down by policemen and being shot in an execution style. That said man was a felon with priors, he was apparently resisting arrest, he was not a good man, even his social media profile was inappropriate. I agree that he was all that and more, but does that justify his murder. The video, which was shown by the media, showed that man pinned down, and then a cop pulls out a gun, points it at him and shoots him.
Many people said that the video was deceptive, that it showed what it wanted to show. So I looked at it again and I saw exactly how I described it in the earlier lines (events must have happened before that which led to this moment but the instance he was killed he was on the ground). I saw a man being murdered. Once again it was being justified that because he had a mile long rap sheet he deserved to die. Then soon after that another black man, returning in his car, with his girlfriend, and her baby, was pulled over. As per the law he mentioned that he had a concealed hand gun, which he was legally allowed to carry. He was asked to show his Id and when he reached to get his Id, he was shot. Not once but four times. He died.
I understand that police officers have to do terrible and frightening jobs, they have this fear of their lives still. This man was killed for no fault of his own. He did not even have criminal records.
Now, my article is a very personal observation. My Facebook page is active, many people posts many things. This happened in my country, and I was dismayed to see that on my news feed there were hardly any mention of the dead black men. No outrage.
The next day, when a peaceful protest went violent and law and enforcement officers were senselessly killed, I started seeing many status updates condemning it. And rightly so. My dismay still remained – why is that one incident was ignored, and the other highlighted. Both were horrific murders.
As I debated with myself, wondering about this discrepancy in indignation, I had to get it off my chest. I could have kept silent and not questioned anyone, or offended anyone – yes, I knew many would be offended. Or I question, maybe I will get a convincing answer. And I questioned and I got answer I was seeking, but not the one I approved of. I was told that the first black man shot in Baton Rouge was a criminal, and he gets no sympathy and he deserved to die.
When pointed out that the second man had no criminal records, then why he deserved to die, that question was completely skirted. And while continuing with this dialogue, I was accused of perpetuating a racial divide by asking the question. A question that was pertinent to me, and hoping for an answer that will enlighten me. Yet it did not enlighten me the way I wanted it to. All I gathered from that answer was darkness, that when it came to grieving people preferred cherry picking. Certain lives mattered more.
If you are a felon, if you resist police, you should die and none will feel sorry for you. In the meantime others joined and the dialogue, and as she was challenged more, she became more defensive and the thread became abrasive.
I feel worried. If this is the general mind set, where we start dehumanising people, then we are heading towards terrible times. (If your life is under a threat, or you encounter a terrorist who surely will kill, then finishing them off is justified. Otherwise how can you justify deaths?). I am worried because these are not strangers, but people I am in contact with, Dismissive of a life because that life does not fall in the purview of the cookie cutter mould we are taught to recognise.
I worry because it might so happen tomorrow to someone I am close to, who might be a felon, might get shot. Just because he encountered an intolerant, overzealous or maybe a tired cop (who at that instance is too clouded to process what is happening), who regarded a sudden movement as resistance. And another stranger will justify the death, will find reasons why this person had to die, when there might not be any valid reasons at all. I worry because I think these random shootings should never happen in a civilised society.
The retaliation that follows, more deaths that follow should not happen.
Policemen who are good, who are doing a frighteningly difficult job, looked at suspiciously, and are being killed. They don’t deserve to die because of some errant ones who should not be in the force in the first place. These counter offensives need to halt.
We have developed a fear culture. A fear from both sides. Here is a community that faces mass incarceration, violence and general mistrust for the police. And, on the other side, we have the men in blue, working long hours amidst criminals, conflicts and fearing their own safety. They react in a way that is indoctrinated in them from years past, with limited means of defence when faced with a very tense and volatile situation.
As more and more law enforcement officers are being killed, out of anger, frustration and despair, it becomes more evident that there is something inherently wrong with our system. A system that is self-absorbed and looks out for itself, not for the individuals.
Every time a cop kills a black man there might be more to the background. Something more than racism. Something that can be resolved to a great extent by fixing a broken and battered system. Sadly this very system to save its face, protects the individual and the anger erupts in an unimaginable vicious way. And more wrong follows.
However, you might want to deny, there is a problem in this society. There is a gun problem, there is a problem of the use of excessive force, problem concerning too many unwarranted deaths, imbalance in the way justice is meted out and there is this racial problem. These problems are very much alive and thriving in this country. Be it skin colour, be it religious preferences. One section is vehement in denying these issues and the other section is not convinced.
Till those who are in doubt can be convinced the issues will remain. Until people can have a dialogue instead of shutting down people just because they don’t agree, the issues at hand will remain exactly the way it is. Till men and women are curious to see the other side instead of getting defensive every time something is mentioned not to their perception of how things are and should be, the problems will remain. And along with this disparity in the colour of skin, there is the economic differences, privileged ones always a notch ahead. There is this big difference in political views, the major one regarding guns in this country.
If we choose never to address these, we will have more Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa. And we continue having more of those killers and those killed whose names are still fresh in our minds!
©Sukanya Juno Biswas
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