Baltimore riots: Racial prejudice in the US strikes again

Published: April 29, 2015
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While issues like the Baltimore riots are few and far between, the idea that they do take place is in itself a cause for concern.

Protesters pelt stones at police officials in Baltimore. PHOTO: REUTERS While issues like the Baltimore riots are few and far between, the idea that they do take place is in itself a cause for concern.

We live in harrowing times. While many are under the illusion that the 21st century has rid us of our inherent prejudices and injustices, that is clearly not the case. And while the West supposedly dubs itself as the emblem of the modern world, I feel there are many examples which render this claim untruthful.

Be it the sexist and ageist slurs being hurled at Hillary Clinton for running for office; or the multiple lawsuits filed against Abercrombie and Fitch for their classist policies; or Russia’s anti-LGBT laws (even though they call themselves a progressive state); or the recent racial attack in Ferguson, USA, where an African American teenager was shot dead by a white policeman – I see all colours of prejudice very much alive and thriving in today’s ‘modern’ world.

No, we have not moved on as a civilisation – we have only found better ways to conceal our backward views. And the recent riots in Baltimore are just a continuation of this idea.

For those who are unaware of this issue, on April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black American from Baltimore, was arrested on weapon charges and was kept under police custody for about a week. During that time frame, according to estimations and unconfirmed reports, Gray suffered multiple injuries to his spinal cord and when he was got out of the police van – after his arrest – he was unable to speak or breathe.

On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray passed away – supposedly succumbing to his injuries.

There are various unconfirmed reports. Some witness accounts reveal that he asked for his inhaler (he had asthma) but he was not provided with it. Others report that he had asked for medical attention because of his spinal injury, but that was not provided to him either. Some recent investigations reveal that Gray, allegedly, had undergone spinal surgery a week before his arrest.

Whatever the case may be, yet another Black American man died in police custody, and there are instances of wrong-doing involved as well. This scenario was enough to create an upheaval in Baltimore and people took to the streets to show their frustration. Protesters and police officials have been involved in a showdown for the past few days, and sometime back, Baltimore was put under curfew because of how uncontrollable the situation had become.

While it has not been dubbed as a racial issue, it has very prominent traces of it nonetheless. This is not the first time a black man has died in custody of policemen (Ferguson is a recent example) and these riots demonstrate the frustration that the ethnic minorities have in the US for their white counterparts.

According to one report, out of the 79 people killed in an encounter in South Carolina over the past five years, 43% of them were Black Americans. According to another report, 238 Black Americans were killed in police encounters in 2014; this number is significantly higher than those Black Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks – 215.

Baltimore symbolises how the US system, even with all its glory and glamour, is flawed and that as the US government involves itself with issues related to other countries, its own backyard is on fire. The US government needs to pull its act together and focus on its domestic issues – because clearly, all is not well in the land of opportunities.

However, reading of Baltimore made me realise that Pakistan too has a similar issue with its legal framework. Just like the US, Pakistani convicts too face discrimination in our prisons and are mistreated by the ethnic majority police force. There have been reports of Christian prisoners, more often than not, being treated unkindly and being subjected to violence by, both, the police officers as well as their fellow inmates.

“All prisoners are equal but some prisoners are more equal than others.”

I guess Orwell’s (slightly manoeuvred) quote fits this situation perfectly.

Pakistan is not new to the idea of mysterious deaths and how the ‘powers-that-be’ are often swift to manipulate and suppress any point that might make people raise their fingers towards them. And right now, to my naive view, Baltimore seems to be going through the same manipulation that Balochistan and FATA are going through in Pakistan.

All these instances need to be taken more seriously than just mere headlines. We are in a conundrum, where we have made ourselves believe that the world we live in today is moving forward and is letting go of age-old prejudices. But that is not true. While issues like the Baltimore riots are few and far between, the idea that they do take place is in itself a cause for concern. And every time such a riot takes place, it joins all the others that have taken place before it, and if the severity of the Baltimore riots are any indication, the ‘powers-that-be’ should forecast something bigger brewing – there is only so much puppetry the average citizen can take.

Faiq Lodhi

Faiq Lodhi

A journalism grad and news-buff, his interests include current affairs, arts, literature and social work. He tweets as @FaiqLodhi (twitter.com/FaiqLodhi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.