Missouri’s Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, who’s been sounding a lot more like Gov. George Wallace lately, probably thought he was being clever when he decided to invoke one of the most famous Revolutionary slogans of the 1960’s last week, while at the same time smugly trying to turn the very meaning of the phrase on its head. “We must first have and maintain peace,” the Governor declared during an August 16 press conference, publicly lecturing protesters in Ferguson, Missouri for expressing their grievances against an unjust system that doesn’t give a damn about them or their loved ones. “This is a test. The eyes of the world are watching.” Consequently, these are the truest words spoken by a government official regarding the horrific police occupation of Ferguson, Missouri yet. The eyes of the world are indeed largely fixated on the events happening in that now-infamous community. But it isn’t the community’s residents that the world finds so appalling. It’s the brutal police officers – whose tactics are fueled by such venomous racial animosity towards the nation’s Black residents – that have caught the world’s attention.
The events unfolding in Ferguson over the past several weeks have sparked international concern and curiosity, beginning with the assassination of yet another unarmed teen-aged Black youth, Michael Brown, by a law enforcement officer named Darren Wilson. Young Black men and women being gunned down for no apparent reason by officers of the law in America is certainly nothing new; neither is it out of the ordinary for the police officer who killed them to never be arrested. Sadly it’s extremely rare for a police officer to be charged let alone convicted of the crime of shooting someone, especially if that person is Black. So what is it about the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent cover-up by police that has so galvanized the world into calls for the police to learn restraint? Locally, one of the reasons the case drew almost immediate attention was the way in which police handled the immediate aftermath of one of their own officers shooting and killing an unarmed youth more than six times. When Mike Brown’s relatives saw him lying unconscious in a pool of blood in the middle of the street, the cops refused to let anyone near him. They would not offer them any information about what had just occurred, nor would they let them know the name of the officer who killed him. It wasn’t even until six days later, long after the he was allowed to escape the neighborhood with impunity, that officer Darren Wilson’s name was revealed. Black America knew immediately from their own experiences with police in this racist regime that it could have just as easily been their own body lying there dead in the street for five hours unattended, while the assassin responsible for carrying out the execution is allowed to carry on like nothing happened. (Officer Wilson is currently on paid vacation). It wasn’t until about one or two days later, however, after a night of so-called “rioting”, when the national American news media began reporting on the shooting of Mike Brown, accompanied with scenes of “rioting” by so-called “outside agitators”. This was of course used as a pretext for St. Louis authorities to be called in to quell what were mostly peaceful demonstrations by community members expressing their outrage over the fact that no attempt was even being made to solve Mike Brown’s murder, let alone arrest the officer who killed him. It apparently never donned on either the Ferguson or St. Louis police departments (or on the Pentagon during the years it was handing over all this military equipment to state and local police departments) that deploying all this made-for-war weaponry on the streets of residential neighborhoods would be perceived by the rest of the world as the U.S. going to war against its own citizens.
Amnesty International took the unprecedented step of dispatching a team of international observers to an American city after hearing that peoples’ civil liberties were being violated. In the words of Amnesty International USA’s executive director Steven Hawkins, “Amnesty saw a human rights crisis in Ferguson and it’s a human rights crisis that is escalating.” By sending their members to observe the police response to peaceful demonstrators, Amnesty wanted “to let the authorities in Ferguson know that the world is watching.” The human rights organization was particularly alarmed by the “dictator”-like imposition of a curfew to achieve the purpose of “quelling dissent and silencing protesters.”
Among the masses of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation which the United States has been clamoring to go to war against for the longest time, the scenes of police violence in Ferguson, Missouri struck a raw nerve. A number of lawmakers immediately urged the Foreign Ministry to take a firm stance against racial discrimination in the United States. “As a defender of the protesters in Ferguson,” said parliament member Mansour Haghighatpour, “we can issue a statement and condemn the racist actions by the police.” This notion was seconded by one of Haghighatpour’s colleagues, Hamidreza Tabatabayi, who noted, “The United States claims to be the leader of the world and [defender] of human rights, but it shoots protesters on its own territory.” Esmail Kowsari, a senior member on the parliamentary national security committee, said that the “Foreign Ministry should ask Americans about how they allow themselves to treat their people, especially blacks, in such a manner while magnifying other countries’ problems.” A report from the Islamic Republic News Agency told of how “violence has become institutionalized in the U.S. in recent years, but since President Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, came to the White House, the violence has intensified, and now it has erupted against blacks in Ferguson.” When Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham finally did deliver a statement, many Iranians hoped the Ministry would’ve taken a harsher stance. It’s notable, however, that Afhkam’s words condemning American police brutality were still more forceful than any delivered by a politician in the U.S. “Targeted discrimination against blacks in the United States by the country’s police and judicial system and the crackdown on popular protests following the recent incident are a clear example of the violation of the rights of people of color in the United States, which annually issues numerous reports about human rights violations in independent countries.” She also pointed out that the actions of the police are in clear violation of the Treaty of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the U.S. signed and ratified.
Most surprising, however, were the brutally honest statements concerning racism in the U.S. made by the Supreme Leader of Iran himself, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader took to both Facebook and Twitter to share a collage meant to demonstrate how little has changed regarding U.S. race relations since the time of the Civil Rights Movement fifty years ago. The following message was posted to his Facebook page:
Today, the world is a world of tyranny, lies and deception. The flag of defending human rights is being carried by those who are the greatest enemies of human rights! And the government of the United States is taking the lead among them! Look at what they do to the black community in their own country. This is not about the past. It is not about 50 or 100 years ago that they would claim they have already had reforms. It is about today and the major cities of the United States. Look, in a country that claims to support freedom and human rights, the problem of racial discrimination has not been solved yet. Still in that society, people are deprived of a sense of security only because they have dark skins! If necessary, the police may beat them to death over the crime of having dark skins! The same people claim that they support human rights! They turn a blind eye to the horrible crimes of the usurper Zionist regime. These bombardments, kidnaps and murders are all considered as crimes. All these -according to what they say- are acts that go against human rights. The advocates of human rights do not feel at all that anti-human rights actions are occurring there. If a desperate and oppressed Palestinian shouts out and makes an aggressive move, their propaganda and political machines start to operate but all the crimes against the nations of Palestine and Lebanon are ignored by them! Today the flag of human rights is being carried by such people! Is this not a world of deception? Is this not a world of lies? Is this not a world of hypocrisy? 08/20/1997 #Ferguson
Iran was by no means the only nation to call out the perceived hypocrisy. Even Egypt, despite receiving nearly $2 billion in military aid from the U.S. annually, offered an endorsement of a statement made by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling on police officers in Ferguson to practice “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.” Not coincidentally, statements issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry nearly echo the words of President Barack Obama made last year referring to the U.S.-funded military coup which ousted democratically-elected President Mohammad Morsi, replacing him with current military Dictator Abdel Fattah al Sisi.
Observers over in Europe were no less indignant upon seeing the horror being perpetuated by American police. Der Spiegel, a popular newspaper in Germany, featured an article penned by Professor Marcel Kuhlmey of the Berlin University of Economics and Law. In it he declared, “In the U.S. … the police are far quicker to resort to guns. Even at the training stage, there is a much heavier emphasis on shooting, [whereas in Germany] they are the weapons of last resort.” He also noted that “the last time the German Police owned assault rifles was during the Cold War.” Another German publication, Zeit Online, concluded that “the situation of African Americans has barely improved since Martin Luther King… The dream of a post-racist society, which flared up after the election of Barack Obama, seems further away than ever before.” Even a right-wing paper in Spain, El Mundo, referred to President Obama’s “words of peace and reconciliation… as inadequate and almost treason to a situation [activists] see as a direct result of slavery and racial segregation laws that were in force until 1965.” The Turkish Turkiye carried a column penned by Ahmet Sagirli in which the U.S. is referred to as a “crook with double standards.” A different media outlet in Turkey described the situation in Ferguson thusly:
Units patrolling in armored vehicles caused terror. They beat up journalists who were taking photos and sent them to prison.
The Sri Lankan Daily News seized the opportunity to strike back at a recent travel warning issued by American diplomats against visitors traveling to the island nation of Sri Lanka. A column in the Daily noted, “The world is concerned about gun violence and its toll in the U.S., and even though the U.S. president says he is concerned as well, he has not been able to do anything about its epidemic prevalence.”
Russia can point to this instance as yet another example of supreme American hypocrisy regarding its apparent foreign policy strategy of simply denouncing every move Russia makes. Russian human rights commissioner Konstantin Dolgov provides this assessment:
We think US authorities should pay closer attention to burning internal problems, including those related to ethnicity and race that still exist in the United States. Try to solve them via legal constitutional practices rather than unjustified and inadequate violence.
What is happening in Missouri right now should have a sobering effect on US society and authorities. They are systematic problems. They are by no means limited to one particular city or state.
The commissioner added that the U.S. “has positioned itself as a ‘bastion of human rights’ and is actively engaged in ‘export of democracy’ on a systematic basis [while] serious violations of human rights and barbaric practices thrive.” But it isn’t just the Russian government expressing a profound disappointment with the U.S. A Russian activist who is opposed to President Vladimir Putin (she was even arrested during an anti-Putin protest in 2012) had this to say on Twitter:
Dear American gvrnmnt,you can’t imagine how those who fight for freedom in Russia hate you these days. Putin saw this pic.twitter.com/8EaHz7E1FF
— Maria Baronova (@ponny1) August 19, 2014
Gabriel Guerra Castellanos, a former diplomat of Mexico, took to the Spanish-language El Universal publication to write,
If someone were to tell us this was the old South Africa, or the U.S. South half a century ago, we’d believe it… In the middle of 2014, a police force that looks more like an invading army is attempting to take over a small community of Ferguson… There are police and politicians who prefer Blackhawk helicopters to patrol cars. Anyone can inflate their childhood fantasies as they wish. But size does matter, and in this case, less is more.
From the left-wing La Jornada:
It is worth remembering that in the neighboring country there are frequent cover-ups… of extreme police abuses against black youth.
The popular Cuban website CubaDebate.com carried an op-ed discussion page titled “Is the Ku Klux Klan Coming Back With Force?” In it, columnist Lillian Lachuga wrote:
Now, as in the past, we can see the brutal segregation and abysmal inequality for blacks and immigrants, in housing, education, work [and] public health, and yet other human rights violations in the so-called most democratic nation in the world.
And last but not least the Peoples’ Republic of China weighed in with a commentary written by Li Li that appeared on the State’s official news agency, Xinhua:
[I]t is undeniable that racial discrimination against African Americans or other ethnic minorities, though not as obvious as in the past, still persists in every aspect of U.S. social lives, including employment, housing, education, and particularly, justice. […]
It is highly advisable for the country to make extra efforts to effectively uproot racism in all fields so as to prevent tragedies from recurring.
The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even if in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home.
[…] Obviously, what the United States needs to do is to concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always pointing fingers at others.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the only people in the world who seem to be incapable of seeing the racial dynamics at play in America’s state of over-policing are none other than American whites. At least that’s what separate studies carried out by the Pew Research Center and YouGov seem to indicate. According to PRC’s polling data, a mere 37% of whites polled agree that the Mike Brown “case raises important issues about race”, as opposed to 80% of Black people and 44% of people overall. (In fact nearly half of all whites believed “race is getting more attention than it deserves.”) Most indefensible is the finding that just 33% of whites agreed that the police response – which included mine-resistant tanks on the streets of residential neighborhoods, rubber bullets being shot into crowds at random, and indiscriminate firing of tear gas and flash grenades – went too far. The remaining 67% were divided between saying the response was either “about right” or “I Don’t Know”. Now just imagine for a moment that all this advanced weaponry and artillery was being used to occupy a wealthy white neighborhood in the United States… Do you think American whites would still perceive this as being an appropriate response?