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Photo: flickr.com/David Simmer II

Is Racial Discrimination Skyrocketing?

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“Our father brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

More than 150 years have passed since Abraham Lincoln delivered the now immortal Gettysburg Address. But in the nation that gave birth to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Harvey Milk, and recently people like Janet Mock or Laverne Cox, color-based discrimination still persists and off late seems to be spreading its poisonous fangs rather fast. 

Today as we celebrate the Independence Day, it is time that we take time out of fireworks, parades, barbecues, and carnivals to ponder upon the direction our great nation has taken. Warmongering has taken precedence over the founding principles of liberty and equality.

Recently a video showing a South Carolina woman assaulting a black 15-year-old boy went viral. Stephanie Sebby-Strempel reportedly told the black boy that he and his friends “did not belong” at the pool. She went on to call the teenagers “punks” and used racial slurs too. The video that was captured by one of the teens and shared by his family members also shows Sebby-Strempel striking the teen.

She was so hallucinated by white-supremacist ideas that she saw no fault in her actions and got into a fight with the police officers when they attempted to serve her with an arrest warrant.

“Sebby-Strempel is clearly the aggressor in the assault even going as far as to continue to assault the victim as he was walking away from her,” the police report said.

Her day at the pool ended with charges of third-degree assault related to the teenage boy, and with two counts of assaulting a police officer while resisting arrest.

In another incident on 12 April 2018, 2 black men were arrested from a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for their white business associate. As Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were waiting they were approached by a Starbucks employee enquiring if they needed something. They declined, explaining that they were just waiting for a business meeting.  A few minutes later, the police walked into the coffee shop and arrested them. They spent hours in a jail cell with no outside contact and no sense of what was going to happen next.

They were released only after midnight when the district attorney declined to prosecute them for trespassing. Police later released a recording of the call from a Starbucks employee that led to the arrest. In it, a woman is heard saying that the men refused to “make a purchase or leave”. Nelson said they were neither questioned by the police nor given a chance to explain their position.

A video of the incident captured by a customer that clearly shows that the two men were innocent galvanized people around the country who saw their arrest as an example of racism.

The public outrage against the incident was so strong that Starbucks shut all 8,000 company-owned stores across the US on 29 May to train employees about unconscious bias.

But who was the real culprit behind this unjustified arrest? The Starbucks employee who discriminated between waiting-white-customers and ­waiting-black-customers or the police team that seeing that the accused were black men did not even care to inquire about the situation. The answer is clear. It is the mindset of the people who view people of color as not being worthy of being their equal.

In yet another disturbing footage that went viral, a police officer can be seen using a stun gun on an unarmed black man. Concerned citizens took to social media to slam police for excessive use of force and giving contradicting instructions to the suspect.

Police in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania reported that they received a call claiming there was “a male with a bat.” When they arrived at the scene they found Sean Williams, who the officers claimed “refused to comply” with their instructions. Later the police admitted that no bat was found at the scene of the incident.

What cannot be understood by watching the video was why did the police give him contradictory instructions and why even after realizing that he was unarmed did they use a stun gun. We are sure that our informed readers understand the true reasons behind such bestiality.

While the readers will agree that given the rising instances of racially motivated violence there is a need to educate the younger generation so that they grow up as adults who value the cultural and racial diversity of our country, that is exactly what the police does not want. A South Carolina police union has lodged a protest about a high school’s summer reading list that includes two novels discussing the topic of police brutality. One of the two books All American Boys tells the story of a black teenager who gets beaten by the police and hospitalized after being mistakenly suspected of shoplifting. The book follows him as he tries to overcome his distrust of police. The school is in the Charleston County. North Charleston drew national attention in April 2015 after officer Michael Slager was recorded by a bystander when he gunned down unarmed Walter Scott from behind after he fled a traffic stop. Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December 2017 for second-degree murder. So, it comes as no surprise that a sensitive school decided to warn the kids of such lurking dangers by including the two books. On the other hand, justifying the lodged protest the president of the police union John Blackmon said, "Freshmen, they're at the age where their interactions with law enforcement have been very minimal. They're not driving yet, they haven't been stopped for speeding, they don't have these type of interactions."

His logic certainly rules out the potential that the students might have prior experience with police through their parents. The police union president also forgot that what is taught at school is not for immediate implementation, rather it is to make the students ready for the future.

But should we blame the common citizens and the police when our policymakers spread racially charged misconceptions?

Russell Walker, the Republican candidate running for state House District 48, recently said on a website that he claims he owns that ‘God is a racist white supremacist and that Jews are descended from Satan.’ The website also said that it feels there is nothing wrong with being a white supremacist.

"Someone or group has to be supreme and that group is the whites of the world ... someone or something has to be inferior ... In all history in sub-Saharan Africa, no two-story building or a waterproof boat was ever made."

Is Racial Discrimination Skyrocketing?

Although the North Carolina Republican Party has now distanced itself from Walker, it is common knowledge that various lawmakers harbor similar sentiments in secret.

There is no doubt that the situation of racial discrimination in the US is getting worse but what is more worrying is the fact that the police force and the lawmakers who should be seen as protectors are instead turning into aggressors. Recently there have been multiple instances where the police have attacked and even shot-dead unarmed black people. According to statistics, in the year 2017, the number of white people shot dead by cops was 457 while the number of people-of-color shot dead was 530. We must keep in mind that in the US 72.4% people are whites while all other races combined make up for only 27.6% of the population.

Incidents of racial discrimination and violence remind us that it is high time that we ourselves remember those principles upon which this great nation was founded and also teach our kids that whatever be the color of our skin, human beings are all equal. Growing discrimination and discontent in a nation that is a nuclear superpower can have devastating consequence not only for the country but also for the entire world.

Author: Pradeep Banerjee