On July 5, 2016, just a day after the United States Of America celebrated its independence day, two police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling in Louisiana. A day later, a police officer shot and killed Philando Castile in Minnesota, while pulling him over for a routine traffic issue.
Both shootings continue what seems to be a never-ending stream of police officers caught on camera using excessive and often lethal force on black suspects. Castile had told the cop that he was carrying a legal gun with him and that he was reaching for his wallet to show his driver’s license as requested - when the cop fired. Sterling, according to a cell phone video, was on the ground and subdued when the officers shot him.
After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Trayvon Martin in Florida, the public strangulation of Eric Garner in New York, and the horrific video of Walter Scott being shot in the back in South Carolina, I doubt many people were surprised by the two most recent incidents. Living in America you get used to mass shootings. And over the last few years, we’ve now gotten used to videos of black men, often unarmed or already subdued being shot by mostly white police officers.
It’s hard not to believe there is a strong racist element to these shootings. Because it’s almost impossible to believe that these scenarios would have played out similarly if the victims had been white.
A day after the second shooting, on Thursday evening, at a protest in Dallas, a black army veteran killed five and wounded seven police officers. During a standoff with the police, he told them he wanted revenge for what had happened and wanted to kill white cops.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the Dallas news on TV was, we are so screwed. The country already experiences a mass shooting per day, in fact more than one. Violence against and persecution of blacks in America is already a problem. Now we have white cops getting shot by a black man. It’s only going to get worse.
America has a racism problem. America has a gun problem. And it seems, neither are going away anytime soon.
It’s hard for the average person to reconcile what’s going on in the country with their own life. As an Indian, I’m certainly a minority. But being brown, especially the Indian kind, is extremely different from being black. Indians are the richest minority group in the country.
Racism is usually of the lazy and comic variety when it comes to most Indians - people assuming all Indians run a convenience store or are JAVA programmers. In the 24 years that I’ve lived in the US, since moving here at 17 for college, I’ve experienced exactly three racist episodes - mostly by drunk idiots either at a bar or on the street.
One guy called me a towel head and another called me bin Laden, though I’m pretty sure I look nothing like the turbaned terrorist. The only time that one could argue I should have felt threatened, even though I didn’t, was when a guy followed me down the street in Atlantic City telling me he had just gotten back from Iraq and was going to kick my ass. My friends and I told a cop he was harassing us and that ended that.
It’s impossible for someone like me to imagine what it must be like to be presumed guilty till proven innocent every day of your life. To be a second class citizen in your own neighbourhood. To know that people who are supposed to protect you, and have almost total power over you, might use that power to hurt you instead.
People who don’t live in America, or don’t follow American news and politics might assume from the country having a black president, black musical superstars like Jay Z and Beyoncé, and a never-ending supply of black superstar athletes like Kobe and Serena that racism doesn’t exist. But it’s not really that different than India, where Shahrukh, Aamir and Salman Khan can be the biggest stars in the same country – but a Muslim man can be dragged out of his house and killed by a mob on suspicion of keeping beef in his fridge.
Racism will always exist, in every country, in every corner of the world. I am not holding my breath for some global Kumbaya moment. What’s scary is when it becomes an institutional problem inside of the police force as many are saying it has in the US.
Police officers are only human. Most are good, some are assholes. Just like lawyers, and doctors and plumbers. To assume that human shortcomings go away when a person puts on a uniform – whether of the police or army or otherwise - is naive. The real problem is when it becomes okay to use force without consequences.
According to a Washington Post article, in the last decade, out of thousands of recorded fatal police shootings, only 54 officers were charged and almost all were acquitted. Yet, video after video pops up on social media of police violence against black people. And while smartphone cameras capturing these acts only started a few years ago, we all know that police brutality has a longer history than that.
Watching the news about America these days, whether it’s shootings or Iraq or Donald Trump, it’s tempting to think that the country is falling apart. But we know the answer is more complex than that. Events of a country go in ups and downs. Times of peace and times of unrest. It feels like we’re in a bad patch. I don’t expect the country to solve its racist issues in the next year or even the next decade. But the shine of life feels a little less bright when tragic news stops being surprising.
The author is a resident of San Francisco and works in marketing. Views are personal.