When the American Nightmare kills a Bangladeshi Dream
It is always unsettling to hear about people's lives being taken under the most arbitrary pretexts by law enforcement agencies who are in charge of ensuring the overall security of all citizens. The assertion that George Floyd's death would be – and must be – the last such killing at the hands of law enforcement spread throughout the weeks following his murder by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020.
Unfortunately, there has been no progress in the rate of fatal police violence in the US.
In a tragic turn of events, a young Bangladeshi student, Sayed Arif Faisal, was fatally shot to death by police in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 4. This has spurred protests and enraged the Bangladeshi community living in the US state. The Bangladesh Association of New England (BANE), which described the death as a "racist incident by white police officers," strongly denounced the "brutal killing" and demanded a fair probe of the incident and punishment of the police officer who opened fire. The victim's family has denied the police's claim that Faisal was carrying a large knife. As of yet, no evidence has been provided by authorities. The very public debate about police brutality in the US has been rekindled by this deadly use of force by the police.
Statistics from the last two decades show that US society is confronted with a wide range of domestic human rights issues, and hate crimes, mass shootings, structural racism, and police violence have increased alarmingly. According to a new study in The Lancet, there have been around 32,000 police-related killings in the US during 1980–2019, with nearly 55 percent of these killings being misclassified or unreported.
The racist actions of the Trump administration are well-known. But it is distressing to note that there has been no change in the situation of racially-motivated police violence during the current Biden administration. Despite Biden's pledge to end the situation, law enforcement organisations killed 1,183 people in 2022, averaging about three deaths per day, according to Mapping Police Violence, a non-profit research organisation. Similar patterns have been documented by The Washington Post, which concluded that since 2015, police have killed almost 1,000 individuals annually.
This shocking regularity of killings suggests that nothing has changed substantially under the Biden administration to disrupt the nationwide dynamic of police brutality. Instead, it appears to be getting worse year after year.
Extrajudicial executions are wrong in every way, both morally and judicially. They violate core human rights and supersede the "right to justice" in addition to breaking international laws and conventions. But unfortunately, a culture of impunity for police brutality also exists in the US judicial system. Police officers are given unique legal protections under US law in both criminal and civil proceedings.
Racial discrimination permeates the fundamental fabric of US society and the country's political system. Sadly, racial profiling is still a regular practice in a number of US states. It leads to the hypothesis that white US Americans' perception of black people in the US, a country that preaches democratic values, is nonetheless still aligned with the mindset prevalent in times of slavery. Despite making up only 13 percent of the population, the rate of fatal police shootings of unarmed black people is more than three times as high as it is for white people.
In light of recent developments, Robert Reich, Clinton's secretary of labour, said the socioeconomic structure in the US today is identical to the apartheid system in South Africa.
Numerous studies have found that gun violence has escalated to be a serious social issue that cannot be stopped. The US-based think tank Pew Research Center estimates that a total of 45,222 people died in gun violence-related incidents in 2020, which is 43 percent higher than a decade ago, 25 percent more than five years ago, and 14 percent more than the year before.
The most fundamental human right – the right to life – is threatened by gun violence. It has significant and lasting psychological impacts on individuals, families, and on the larger community. In a 2014 report, the NGO Human Rights Watch noted that minority populations are disproportionately affected by these violations: "Victims are often the most vulnerable members of society: racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the elderly, the poor, and prisoners."
Despite the US' advanced technology and well-trained police force, more than a thousand people are killed by on-duty police officers each year without due process of law. Now, concerns have been raised regarding US police's role in reducing the rising tide of violence. Human rights organisations accused the US government of failing to do more to halt these atrocities.
The State Department's goal of promoting human rights abroad would undoubtedly be called into question by the bleak picture of the human rights situation there. Since the United States has an undeniable history of police brutality and its police departments have been guilty of countless murders, it would be challenging for Washington to uphold its moral standing to pass judgement on other countries.
Finally, extrajudicial executions by law enforcement agencies aren't normal in any society, whether it be in the developed world or the developing world. Every crime must be tried in fair tribunals, and offenders must receive just punishment. Governments must not be allowed to normalise police brutality. Washington's moral position to criticise other nations on rights issues will gradually erode until it is willing to uphold such rights itself.
Prithwi Raj Chaturvedi is a researcher and political analyst.