Events this week in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas has rocked the United States and also made headlines here in Europe. In fact, my BBC News text alerts came in the early morning hours as breaking news after these incidences.
As an American living abroad, I have been asked a lot of questions surrounding our political and social issues, as Europeans can’t seem to understand why we still have this kind of violence. Is it our obsession with guns? Is it from racists like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) etc…
This is not to say that there aren’t socioeconomic issues or problems with violence in Europe, but it is quite infrequent, even when you factor in the latest terror attacks. So while the problem of officer-involved shootings isn’t a clear cut problem, for my European counterparts– I say it is not a clear-cut solution. So here are a few of the questions that I have been asked this week, and before with the #OrlandoShooting.
The problem is guns
If America just outlaws all of its guns, the problem will go away. Realistically the United States will not repeal the second amendment (I have to phrase it this way, because not many Europeans know that owning firearms is a constitutional right as opposed to a “regular law”) as it would require 2/3 approval by Congress (both houses) or 3/4 approval from each state. I do not consider myself a gun advocate, however you define that; but we still have the problem of illegal firearms, which in some states, are easier to get than legal ones. Also, what would we do with all the current guns? When the U.K banned handguns, about .1% of the population turned in weapons, which is a much smaller percentage than America’s gun-owners.
Although enforcement of gun laws and better gun control are needed, it may help prevent some mass shootings, but not the case of officer-involved shootings. The majority of civilians killed by a police officer are White according to the Washington Post; however, a large number of them were brandishing (visibly threatening with) a weapon or had just attacked someone with a weapon. A smaller portion of the shootings are against unarmed civilians: it is this portion where Black and Latino civilians make up the pool. African Americans count for 40% killed in this pool, which is problematic when they are only 13% of the entire American population. Thus, my argument is for a change in police training and culture, some towns like Ferguson’s police force are not diverse at all, while in Baltimore where the force is mostly Black they are trained to “police” the community and not “protect” it. We have good examples where police chiefs recognized the need for reform and did so; however because our governing is not centralize as in Europe– its up for each town or state to catch on and make those changes to police training and culture (how they view the communities they work in).
Doesn’t All Lives Matter?
Of course it does!
The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) grew as a political and social justice campaign due to officer-involved shootings of Black men who were stopped for minor (if any) infractions. Many Europeans (and Americans) have a broad understanding of the history of race relations, but not how deep or “institutionalized” it is.
Everyone knows the KKK and the kinds of people today that are a part of this White supremacist movement (usually uneducated or less educated White men from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). However, before their membership declined, pretty much any White person of standing was a part of this institution; and by standing I mean a police officer, a judge, doctor, politician, etc…Thus, for Black Americans of this time (my mother and father if they lived in the U.S– but you understand what I mean, the majority of people still alive today) the people who were part of the institutions to serve and protect us, were also a part of an institution that terrorized the Black community.
So there is a historical legacy of mistrust, tension, and the devaluing of a Black person as a human being. In short, all lives matter from every corner of the globe, but historically the deaths of Black persons have gone unnoticed or without justice. And now in 2016, very few of these unarmed deaths have seen prosecution. For the BLM movement the lack of prosecution, justice, or even attention to these cases (before cellphones or instagram) is seen as ongoing phenomena of the devalued life of a Black person (man). So as a principle, all lives are important, but the #AllLivesMatter hashtag ignores/hides the crisis of the disproportionate deaths of unarmed Black civilians.
America is so racist!
Is it more racist than the U.K or France (is the response I give)? Yes, racism is a problem, but depending who you ask you will get different answers of to what degree it is a problem. Hate groups, like the KKK, today are a small fraction of the population, maybe 10% (which translates to 30 million people). However, in recent years with right-wing populist movements across the globe, we have seen a re-awakening of divisive and racist rhetoric and the outcome of that has been the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. However, Europe does have its own ethnic/religious relations problems too. In fact, I have criticized many European countries for their lack of assimilation of immigrants, which have marginalized many European-born Muslims.
Right-wing populism is also making waves in Europe such as the UKIP party in the U.K which grabbed a large amount of seats in local councils and the European parliament in 2015 and hence led the #Brexit campaign. The Alternative for Germany party has also gained traction since 2014 and the Norwegian Progress Party is currently part of a coalition government. Also if you remember, America had the Tea Party movement. These movements advocate on an anti-immigration platform and a return to “traditional values”. Thus, hate and fringe groups may not have been our biggest problems of race relations, but the changing landscape of politics that is more demagogue than policies threatens to re-open rather than heal old wounds.
At least until I heard this from Newt Gingrich this afternoon.
So it has been a tough week for Americans, as we had to reflect and hopefully engage in a very difficult dialogue (as opposed to yelling at each other). As always, share your questions or thoughts with me @ReporterandGirl or on Facebook.
Happy (belated) Independence Day.