Reversing The Gaze: In Ilhan Omar And Amy Klobuchar’s Minnesota, Minorities Live In Fear As Regime Cracks Down On Press During Pro-Democracy Protests

Reversing The Gaze: In Ilhan Omar And Amy Klobuchar’s Minnesota, Minorities Live In Fear As Regime Cracks Down On Press During Pro-Democracy Protests

by Ruchir 'Ferrero' Sharma - Monday, June 1, 2020 11:24 AM IST
Reversing The Gaze: In Ilhan Omar And Amy Klobuchar’s Minnesota, Minorities Live In Fear As Regime Cracks Down On Press During Pro-Democracy ProtestsProtest against racism and police violence at the US embassy in Berlin after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United Stats on 30 May 2020. (Leonhard Lenz)
  • What if the rest of the world reported on the current protests and state violence in the US with the same exoticised, patronising and subversive tone that the Western media uses in their coverage of China, India, Iran, Russia, Serbia, or Venezuela?

    Our special correspondent on police reform, the BRICS, Western hypocrisy, and reversing the colonial gaze, Ruchir Sharma, reports on what could be the world’s latest failed state, in the spirit of Josh Keating’s satirical “If it happened there” series.

In a major blow to the majoritarian, nationalist regime of the United States of America, violent protests erupted last week in over 100 cities across the country, following the lynching of a member of the African-American community by local law enforcement ‘militias’ in the mid-western region of Minnesota.

An increasingly common feature of the violent and turbulent history of this fledgling nation, such brutality echoes with the racist foundations of a regime created on the foundation of slavery of black men, women, and children and a systematic genocide of native communities and indigenous nations, which for the majority of its existence practised racial segregation enforced by law, placed millions of Asian-Americans in detention camps, denied entry to the country based on race, and supported the white supremacist Apartheid regime in South Africa for decades.

Eyewitness accounts recorded officers of the Minneapolis Police Department brutally choking George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old African American man, claiming he was “resisting arrest”.

Bystanders attempted to save Floyd from this custodial death, pleading with the officers to allow him to breathe. A recording of the incident saw one passer-by accusing the officers of taking sadistic pleasure in torturing the victim saying, “He's not resisting arrest or nothing. You're enjoying it. Look at you. Your body language.”

Such violence against minorities fits into a pattern of state-sponsored lynchings of African-Americans at the hand of both the police and individual citizens, which has intensified over the past months.

Last month saw plainclothes police in Kentucky forcibly enter the home of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an African-American emergency medical technician, shooting her eight times without warning or even an announcement that they were police or serving a warrant. Seven people were shot in the protests demanding justice that followed.

In addition, the story of Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was revealed wherein an African-American jogger in the state of Georgia was chased by a white father-son duo in a pickup truck and lynched with a gun in February, a case that was covered up by local authorities, who refused to arrest the lynchers for 74 days until a viral video of the incident uncovered the scandal and their complicity.

Since the killing of Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, the country has exploded in a week-long series of protests as ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to demand justice and accountability for extra-judicial murders by regime institutions.

Tensions across the country have escalated, with the National Guard being deployed in Minnesota and reports coming in of troops patrolling neighbourhoods and shooting civilians on their own property.

In scenes reminiscent of Chauri Chaura in the 1920s, a police station was attacked and burnt down by protesters.

More than a dozen cities have been placed under curfew, a move that regime authorities were reluctant to impose even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Dallas, Texas, a woman shopping for groceries was shot by police using pellet guns, while in Brooklyn, New York, local police rammed protesters with SUVs.

In addition, in what appears to be a major crackdown on the freedom of the press, there have been over 50 reports of violence and harassment against journalists covering the protests.

This includes a CNN news crew who were arrested while filming a live report, a CBS news crew who were shot at with rubber bullets, a freelance photojournalist named Linda Tirado who was blinded in police firing, and Swedish foreign correspondent Nina Svanberg who was shot multiple times in the leg.

Adding fuel to the fire, President Donald Trump accused protesters of being violent rioters and looters, tweeting what was widely seen as a call for violence, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

This phrase has a long history within the country, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, wherein the African-American community campaigned to end legalised and state-sponsored racial discrimination, being used by segregationists and white supremacists such as Alabama Governor (and US presidential candidate) George Wallace and Eugene Connor, who pioneered the use of police dogs and water cannons to attack civil rights protesters.

No surprise, then, that Trump is also on record threatening protesters outside the White House with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons”.

The Bipartisan Political Roots Of Racist American Violence

These killings, the subsequent protests, and the heavy-handed response by the regime are unfortunately not a god-given or natural state of affairs, but a man-made problem created as a result of a series of policy choices.

Allowing and enabling citizens to be victimised by everyday violence at the hands of both state institutions and armed individuals is ultimately a political choice — the unfortunate result of a toxic combination of white supremacist political ideologies, household access to weapons that rivals the worst of the Yugoslav wars, and decades of militarisation of police forces across the country backed by both major political parties.

This has meant that police in this flawed democracy are not mandated to protect citizens or deliver justice, but to protect property and the regime from restive elements and oppressed groups, who are often seen not as citizens to be served, but as “internal threats to security”.

Similar to other authoritarian regimes such as Afghanistan, Chechnya and Somalia, local and regional satraps across the country have at their command a heavily militarised police force, blurring the line between law enforcement and state oppression.

These militia-style forces have infamously been used for crushing protests by civil society groups. This forms the basis of a domestic policy of racial brutalisation that enjoys widespread, bipartisan support across the country’s two political factions, the centre-right Democrats and the far-right Republicans, in a regime that has fallen to corporate capture.

The political discourse in this country allows only for these two factions, and pretends that the former are “left-wing” while the latter are “right-wing”, owing to a heavily distorted Overton Window that only finds fascist authoritarianism, neo-liberal capitalism, and overseas military adventurism within its narrow realm of acceptable political thought.

This system is encompassed under the euphemism of “American exceptionalism” — an aggressive form of hyper-nationalism that claims that the country is superior to all others and thus beyond the purview of international law, norms and human rights, while also claiming to be the guardian and enforcer of such norms abroad, interfering with the rights of other sovereign countries through coups d’etat, regime change operations, arming extremist rebel groups, and open threats of invasion.

Although racist rhetoric has long been an effective tool for Republican demagogues such as Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump to drum up support for a permanent state of war, mass incarceration of minority groups, infringing upon citizens’ rights with the most expansive state surveillance system in the world, and blaming the country’s problems on an external enemy, their rival Democrats are not far behind.

Despite their veneer of tokenism disguised as “diversity” (or in other words, “white supremacy with a non-white face”), Democrat leaders have for long been enablers of these policies. Infamously, out of a bizarre philosophy they call “bipartisanism” and “reaching across the aisle”, they have a record of cravenly supporting such policies as a ‘controlled opposition’ when out of power, while enforcing, enacting, and expanding them with gusto when in power.

Despite traditionally being popular among ethnic and religious minorities, the party treats them as a vote bank, cynically using weaponised immigrants such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Faiz Shakir, Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna to gain the trust and votes of minority citizens through shallow social media campaigning on issues which mysteriously never come to the legislative table or futile posturing on human rights issues in sovereign states abroad, while doing nothing to dismantle the structural racism of state institutions or improve human rights records even in so-called Blue States, where the party has had an unchallenged reign over decades to enact their own vision, with little to no legislative or executive opposition.

Engaging in a form of bigotry, both parties treat minorities as groups who are controlled by their community leaders instead of individuals incapable of independent thought.

They assume that non-white communities vote based on their identity rather than on policies, and thus think that merely adding minority candidates to their party leadership (without allowing them to influence the party’s core ideology), is enough to win over these vote banks.

Democrat faction supremo Joe Biden, a passionate racial segregationist in the 1970s who claimed that black children being sent to study in white-majority schools would lead to his children growing up “in a racial jungle”, recently told black voters that if they even hesitated to vote for him, they were “not black”.

For the presidential candidate of party that claims to represent the left-wing of his country’s politics, he sure sounds a lot like a certain far-right, religious fundamentalist leader in India named Asaduddin Owaisi, who is reported to have said that minorities who did not vote for his party are “eunuchs”.

As Briahna Joy Gray writes in Current Affairs,

[T]he problem … [is] that Democrats indulge in a kind of racial essentialism — a presumption that political allegiances are a part of one’s racial identity. It’s obvious that someone like Biden is not in a position to define what does and doesn’t constitute true Blackness. But nobody should be portraying Black voters as a uniform bloc whose political loyalties are predetermined by their identity.

As their record will attest, a police state that brutalises African-Americans is indeed part of the Democrats’ core vision for the nation.

Infamously, former president Bill Clinton, along with the faction’s current supremo Joe Biden, spearheaded legislation in 1994 which enabled mass incarceration of vulnerable communities, using the invented bogeyman of “superpredators” — a racist dog whistle term popularised by the first lady at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In the rich tradition of Elena Ceausescu and Sonia Gandhi, the first lady enjoyed unelected power without constitutional responsibility during her spouse’s regime, before leveraging her political connections to launch her own political career, where she became “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party”, according to a brave critic of the faction’s orthodox wing, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

The legacy of this legislation means that today, the United States has the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per-capita incarceration rate, with 760 prisoners per 100,000 population.

Today, close to 7 million Americans, largely minorities, are on probation, parole, jail, or prison, representing around 3 per cent of the country’s adult population, a number higher than the Soviet Union under Stalin at the height of the infamous GULAG system.

In addition, 22 US states continued to allow the imprisonment and execution of children until a Supreme Court ruling in 2005, and the country has to this day refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with no president, Republican or Democrat, having had the courage to table it in front of a hostile legislature, whose members are owned by corporate sponsors in the country’s infamous prison-industrial complex.

Never have these bipartisan political values of upholding an institutionally racist police state been more clear than today, as one of the front-runners to be Biden’s Democratic vice-presidential nominee at the next elections in November 2020, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota’s record has come out on this issue.

During her tenure as the state’s top prosecutor, declined to press charges against more than 12 police officers accused of extra-judicial killings, including Derek Chauvin, who was recorded on camera choking Floyd to death last week. In fact, over his 20 year career in the police, Chauvin collected 17 complaints against him, out of which 16 resulted in no disciplinary action, according to police records.

Ruchir Sharma is an international public policy professional in the fields of police reform, counter-terrorism, and climate change. 

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