The US is consistently seen as one of the most democratic countries in the world, a model for all countries to follow. Since the Second World War, it has occupied a talismanic stance in the UN and in world politics. It’s economy has become one of the strongest in the world and it fulfills most of what we see as the ‘democratic checklist’. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, free elections, and so on and so forth.
But recent events have overcast these views. The murders of Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, to name but a few, have shocked the world, plunging us into a state of antipathy and anger. Iconic protest lines have been thrown up across the USA and beyond, ‘I can’t breathe’ among them.
The video taken of Eric Garner and his unprovoked killing exemplifies the huge problems which surround the American legal and police systems. The unprovoked and undeserved brutality with which he was treated, and his subsequent death, sparked outrage across the US. It seems like the flame of institutional racism is alive and well, still kindled by the archaic structure of the police and the courts.
David Pantaleo’s public indictment, and his subsequent release without charge is a gross mistake by the police, a clear indication of the continuing corruption of the police forces and overall political institution. What is just as shocking is the immediate defense Pantaleo received from his fellow officers on PoliceOne, one officer remarking that “He was not choked to death. He was taken down by the neck after refusing to comply with the lawful arrest of officers of the NYPD.”
What can we see from this? Firstly we have an over-blatant lie, in what way was Garner not choked to death? The video proves this to everyone-the fact that a self-respecting police officer, who let’s remember, is meant to defend the population against harm, can deny something so obviously evident should be a wake up call to us. The corruption of the police extends to other police officers lying to prevent the indictment of their fellow officers.
Secondly, we have to ask what a ‘lawful’ arrest is. As defined on uslegal.com, this is “the legal custody of a person under warrant or under a probable cause. Probable cause includes the belief of commission of crime, or an arrest demanded under civil process.”
This suggests precisely that the accused or arrested has to be made aware of the terms for his arrest. If this cannot be related to the arrested how can there be a “probable cause?”
Not once is Eric Garner told why he is being arrested. Not once does he receive a legitimate reason for his arrest. So this “statement” by an American police officer can be immediately discounted.
There have been various responses to these deaths. And some are more shocking and disgraceful that others. The obvious response has been the protests, which are fully legitimate and significant. However, only a few weeks ago, Senator Barbara Boxer suggested that toy guns should be painted a luminous colour or have some form of fluorescent cap on them, to prevent further shootings. Ms Boxer stated that “Any modifications you can make to the existing toy gun standards that will help ensure that law enforcement officers are able to distinguish fake guns from real firearms are much appreciated.”
This is an obvious reference to the death of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old African-American who was shot dead because the relevant officers mistook his toy gun for a real one. First things first, there was no warning. There are absolutely no reports of a warning to Rice,.Secondly, in the video captured by CCTV we can clearly see that the toy gun is not even raised when the police officer opens fire. Then we have the obvious contradiction that this is a 12 year old boy we are talking about. If it was a white 12 year old boy with a gun would he have been shot without warning? I somehow doubt it. The reasoning for his death is both irrelevant and discriminatory.
What we have here is a complete ignorance of the problem at hand. The racist component of the American police force and a police officer’s virtual immunity are obvious causes for concern, and these must be addressed. But something which is much more easily contained, which would without a doubt cause a reduction in deaths to civilians ‘suspected of carrying guns’ is to ban the sale of guns. This is a simple process.
Black Friday in the US a few weeks ago witnessed an overall drop in sales, yet one which was accompanied by a spike in the sale of guns. The FBI reported that Black Friday saw over 175,000 background checks prior to the sale of guns, more than has ever been recorded before on that date. Rather than being shocked at the increase in background checks, FBI Manager Kimberley del Greco praised the competence of gun sellers in coping with the increasing demand for weaponry, saying “This means saving lives and protecting people from harm—by not letting guns fall into the wrong hands.”
So here we go again. “Not letting guns fall into the wrong hands”, what would in any way constitute the “right hands”. Which American citizen has more of a right to carry guns than others? What this seems to ignore is the basic psyche of a criminal, that a criminal has to commit his first crime with a clean slate, the same clean slate that you or I have. It is foolish, naïve and unethical to allow possession of a weapon such as a gun because the person in question has not yet committed a crime.
And then we look at these most recent cases. Tamir Rice was shot because he was holding what looked like a fully equipped and fully functional gun. And the answer the police, and Ms Boxer give, is that toy guns have to have luminous patterns on them, so that they are easily distinguishable from real guns. This does not solve the problem in two ways. Firstly what is to stop anyone from wrapping any kind of material around the luminous tip, to make it look more genuine? This is both practical and insensitive reasoning for why their policy would not work. More importantly, it is as if Tamir Rice should somehow take full responsibility for his death. There is a deliberate aversion from the real problem at hand, time and time again the police and the government seem to skirt away from the problem of guns, and point towards other, comparatively minor and unimportant factors.
For example following the massacre of American schoolchildren in Connecticut in December, the consensus among politicians and police seemed to be that the answer was bulletproof vests for children and an arming of every school teacher in the US. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21721518
The main question which arises from the various incidents, and the constant continuation of shootings across the US, be it by the US police or a member of the public, is how this has been allowed to continue for so long. It suggests there is something exclusively intrinsic to the American psyche, which demands a constant assurance of self-defence? Why is it that other countries, which take up the same status as America, ‘great power’, ‘economic stalwart’ etc. etc., can control their country and live in relative peace without guns? Why is it that America is about the only leading country where gun possession is still common among citizens? Where 34 per cent of Americans still own a handgun.
This is a constantly topical question, since the possession of guns leads to tragedies all the time, they are just not as evident in the press. In the last few weeks there was a story of a 2 year old shooting and killing his mother in a restaurant after he found her gun in her handbag and mistakenly let it off.
The question we must ask in response to these desperate disasters is not whether ‘too many’ Americans are getting access to guns, it is whether any at all should be accessing guns. The American gun culture has to change, I would’ve thought that the death of all these innocent people would awaken the American population to see the uniqueness of their situation.
This graph should show Americans there is no developed country in the world which can compete, if that is the right word, with America for country with the highest rate of gun murder. We need a repeal of the gun laws, the NRA are an archaic group who don’t have a place in the ‘democratic, modernistic’ society the US is meant to represent.