RIGHT now I suspect that many Africans, including those who have never travelled to the USA, feel they understand it.
That is because another white American policeman who killed a black man has just walked free. A grand jury in New York voted Wednesday not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner, who died after he placed him in a chokehold.
Garner died July 17 while he was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. In a video of the arrest, which went viral, Garner screams “I can’t breathe!” several times until his body goes limp. A medical examiner later said that he died of a chokehold, a tactic that is banned by the New York Police Department (NYPD), and ruled his death a homicide.
Protests in New York
Demonstrators – both white and black – took to the streets in a peaceful protest at what they saw as an outrageous decision.
The Garner verdict came barely a week after more deadly protests in Ferguson, in the state of Missouri, after a grand jury there decided not to charge white police officer Darren Wilson with the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August.
It is a situation many poor Africans or those from minority and powerless ethnic groups understand too well.
But it gets bizarre…and even more recognisable. Officer Daniel Pantaleo was filmed strangling Garner by 22-year-old Ramsey Orta.
Orta was later arrested and indicted for illegal possession of a firearm. The police alleged that he had slipped a handgun in his teenage female companion’s waistband.
Orta testified that the charges were falsely brought by police in retaliation for his role in documenting Garner’s death, but the grand jury rejected his contention.
So the killer walks, and the witness goes to jail. Again, we have seen this before.
Be it in Kenya, Nigeria, Congo, or Cameroon, one of the main reasons citizens say they don’t report crimes to the police, is that they would get in trouble. Where police cannot find the culprits, they are often content to arrest a witness or the person who reports the crime.
And then there is the victim blaming. America does it better than any other country.
Republican congressman Peter King said that if Garner, a huge man, had been healthier, he would not have died after he was place a chokehold.
“If he had not had asthma, and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this,” King told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer during an interview.
In other words it was his fault that he died.
In the case of Brown, officer Darren too said he was a massive chap, and when he shot him the first time he did not fall down. And he looked scary, so he kept shooting him to bring him down. In America is it a “crime” to be fat, big, or sick?
Power, money, race
It all leaves one asking, should Garner have tried all he could not to become big or suffer from any disease, and remain healthy in case the police one day arrested him so that he wouldn’t die in a chokehold? And should Brown - and all other black Americans for that matter - have remained lean and not have grown tall, so as not to look menacing to a police officer? You can’t make this stuff up.
It reminds one of the recent attacks on “skimpily” women on Kenya’s streets and buses. Though many people considered it an outrage and organised protests against it, there were very vocal supporters of the stripping of women who argued that they brought it upon themselves by wearing “revealing” dress.
In America black people are brutalised and jailed at a rate double that of their percentage of the US population. Compounded by its history of slavery, it all looks ugly and like racism run amok.
But race is only a small part of it. Women were attacked on Nairobi’s streets not because of their tribe, but as women – and women, on the whole, are still marginalised and have less power than men. Also they own less of the nation’s wealth than men.
Race and tribe, in that regard, are about power and wealth. A Baka in Cameroon, or a Pokot in Kenya, comes from a poor marginalised community.
If he came to the capital and got robbed, it would be futile for him to report the case to the police. He might very well end up in prison charged with “loitering” and being “idle and disorderly”—unless he was a Pokot or Baka who is rich and a member of Parliament, therefore with power.
A rich former sports star like basketballer Michael Jordan, therefore, can buy his way out of the perils of being black in America.
The real problem for non-Americans is that the US behaves globally in oblivion of its frailties and inequities at home.
It doesn’t see a contraction in slapping sanctions on Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe for letting his police loose to do to the opposition exactly what the police in the US does to black people—and get away with it.
What leaders like Mugabe and other strongmen on the continent do to their people is wrong and should be condemned. Just that there are other nations better qualified to do that than America.
The US is good at many things, no doubt. The one thing it desperately needs to learn, however, is to shut up and not assume the moral high ground when others do the same evil that it does at home.