America’s race against itself

Published: July 14, 2016
Email

The United States has a long history of emphasising the value of personal freedom, liberty, and equality. It has also positioned itself as the champion of these values globally.

There’s also good reason why the world largely accepts America as the leader of the free world. The American dream has promised its citizens social mobility, freedom from old world hierarchies, and a climate of innovation, all of which have combined to create tremendous economic opportunity.

To say that the US has been a magnet, an El Dorado, for generations would not be an exaggeration. Wave after wave of immigrants have landed on its shores, and after an initial struggle, have by and large successfully established themselves in the country and found great prosperity of the kind that would be largely unattainable in their native lands.

However, beneath this surface, there are fissures. As much as the America espouses freedom and liberty, it also cannot deny the legacy of exploitation and avarice that forms the foundation on which the country was built.

The ugly history of slavery and the expulsion of the Native Americans from their lands still echoes. Equal rights for non-whites are just about five decades old and still evolving, and the salve had not had enough time to heal many old wounds.

Even with all the progress made in this direction, race relations are still a potential flashpoint. While instances of serious hate crime are relatively low, and you don’t have ordinary Americans killing each other in the name of race, the potential for a conflagration is never too far.

The stage where this uneasy relationship can be seen most frequently is in the interaction between law enforcement officers and young black males. The historical factors mentioned above, along with current socio-economic factors have conspired to make the black community more prone to crime and therefore making up a disproportionately large number of prison inmates.

There have been numerous instances, in the last few years, of police using excessive force against black people. Many cases have hit the headlines and sparked protests that often culminate in civil unrest or riots. These have mostly been the ones where extreme brutality was seen or the victim ended up losing his life. The list is long, and includes names like Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Freddie Gray and many others whose cases attained worldwide attention.

The outrage usually isn’t just about the atrocity. It is also because in most cases, the police officers walk away unscathed. While there are many high profile cases, the everyday discrimination and fear is omnipresent for black youths.

This video is just one example of how police use excessive force against unarmed black men. Of course the video doesn’t tell the whole story of what happened prior to the assault, but it does raise many eyebrows.

Police personnel in the US are trained to not take any chances and use force when needed. This has been pretty much a founding principle for the country. While some black youth undoubtedly make cops uncomfortable for many reasons, it should not be an excuse to use more force than necessary.

This is gradually alienating the black community and has the potential to be the biggest threat to the US. The recent Dallas shooting is one of the first instances of this resentment manifesting itself in violent retribution against the police, but it might not be the last.

Community leaders and law enforcement agencies must work together to reduce the instances of police brutality. The US needs to practice what it preaches to the rest of the world and provide a safe environment to all its citizens.

The peace between the races has largely been underwritten by economic opportunity, which helps paper over past injustices. However, if such incidents continue, it might unravel quickly, giving the US government a bigger headache than most external threats.

Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (twitter.com/amitnangia06)

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