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Chris Ford: Why I Am Michael Brown and Eric Garner: why American racism and law enforcement go together

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The recent spate of deaths of black men and boys at the hands of white American police officers reminds me of one thing: that racism and American law enforcement often go together.

It doesn't surprise me that even in an America which currently has its first black president - and nearly 150 years after the abolition of slavery and 50 years after the outlawing of racial discrimination - that racism is still rife in American police forces.


Put simply, the legacy of American racism, borne out of slavery, has not completely left sections of the White American psyche. It seems that police officers equate even borderline activities (like cigarette selling) when carried out by African-Americans, Hispanics or First Nations peoples as completely illegal, requiring a strong-armed response.

In other words, racial profiling is still rampant in America.

That's why Michael Brown and Eric Garner have died at the hands of American police officers in recent weeks. There is a real need to ensure that civil rights are fully realised for all Americans. And many millions of Americans (alongside thousands of others around the globe) have marched against these deaths and called for action to ensure that they never happen again.

Whether the American political elites have the strength of will to act is another thing. Given that Congress is about to pass fully into Republican control come January, it may not be possible - at least not yet. But activists on the ground and ordinary people in many communities in America and across the world should continue to press both the Obama Administration and Congress to take decisive action to end racism in American law enforcement (as well as in all aspects of life). For that matter, I also believe this should extend to the need to eliminate sexism, ageism, disablism, homophobia and Islamophobia within all American and global institutions, particularly those concerned with law enforcement and community safety.

Otherwise, there will be more utterances of 'I can't breathe' from genuinely agitated and aggrieved young ethnic men and women fighting against police brutality. It undoubtedly goes on daily with the recent highly publicised cases only showing the stark reality that many non-White Americans have known and confronted for centuries. Indeed, many Maori and Pasifika have known the same in Aotearoa/New Zealand for decades too. In fact, the story is the same in nearly all nations where institutionalised racism is rife as the police seek to enforce the implicit will of the institutional elites.

However, that should not stop those of us concerned with a more fair and just world from protesting injustice wherever we see it.

That's why I say I and others say we are Michael Brown, we are Eric Garner!



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