Originally published on Scoop Empire September 15, 2014
Harassed, stopped, questioned, threatened, arrested, tear gassed, shot. It’s just a series of events that occur during people’s encounters with police. Many Arabs who’ve experienced a range of human right violations may think they’re alone, but they are most certainly not.
Look no further than “the land of the free”, the United States of America. Police in the U.S. are becoming more and more identical to cops in repressive regimes by throwing on riot gear and taking to the streets in tanks. Having personally witnessed police brutality in both regions, I offer you a look into important cases that define the police’s tyrannical reign of the streets in the U.S.
1. Michael Brown and Ferguson
In Ferguson, Missouri, tucked deep in the South where racial tensions haven’t seen much progress since the civil rights movement, Michael Brown – an unarmed 18-year-old African-American teenager – was shot down by police. Nothing new to American headlines, however the demonstrations that followed could be mistaken for Tahrir Square with tanks and military-style squads of cops taking to the streets.
When images of protests emerged, online activists in the Middle East tweeted advice about how to deal with tear gas and expressed their solidarity with Ferguson. For the first time in history, Amnesty International was deployed to the U.S. to document human right violations against not only the citizens in Ferguson, but the press who were threatened by local authorities.
2. Oscar Grant III
In the very first hours of 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was making his way home from New Year’s Eve celebrations in San Francisco to Oakland on a Bay Area Rapid Transportation train. When a fight broke out, the train stopped at Fruitvale station where BART police began pulling random young men off the train. Among them were Oscar and his friends.
Despite the fact that Grant was handcuffed and laying face down on the floor, officer Johannes Mehserle claimed that Grant was resisting arrest when he had shot him in the back. This garnered global headlines because the shooting was caught on camera by passengers on the train.
Oscar was taken to the hospital where he later died, leaving behind a 4-year-old daughter. At first, Mehserle was placed on paid leave; after the case was taken to court, he was finally sentenced to two years in prison almost two years after the shooting. Mehserle was placed into protective custody because he was a former police officer and was released after 11 months.
3. UC Davis Tuition Protests
Just up the road from Oakland is Davis, home to one of the greatest academic institutions in the world. California is one of the most beautiful states and one of the most expensive to live in, especially if you want a college degree. With tuition at University of California, Davis having a price tag of over $50,000 for four years (not including books, living, or transportation), it was only natural for students to take peaceful action and stage protests over tuition hikes, with non-violent forms of civil disobedience.
Campus police reacted by pepper spraying unarmed students, causing a few of them to be hospitalized. There was, however, justice in the end: UC Davis agreed to pay about $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the 21 students. The cop who was caught on camera spraying the students was fired.
4. Stop and Frisk
Ever walked down the street and just get stopped by police for no apparent reason? Well the majority of Black and Latino men living in New York can relate. Stop and frisk is an official city protocol that allows cops to stop anyone they believe is suspicious of committing a crime and patting them down.
In the first half of 2014, the police stopped New Yorkers over 27,000 times; 82% were totally innocent, over half were black and 28% were Latino.
5. Rodney King – L.A. Riots
Rodney King’s assault at the hands of cops in 1991 is probably the most notable case in recent history that brought police brutality to the forefront of American minds. Previously, an African-American man being beaten by four Los Angeles police officers would’ve been swept under the rug, but this incident was video tapped.
After the police officers walked away squeaky clean, people broke out in mass fervor, resulting in the infamous L.A. Riots. The Marines and the National Guard were called in to stop the riots, which lasted six days and left more than 50 dead and over 2,000 injured.
King later sued the city of L.A. and won over $3.8 million in damages. The officers were retried on federal charges of violating King’s civil rights and two of them were found guilty and served 30 months in prison, while the other two were just chillin.
Growing up between the East and West, I have yet to see a significant difference between cops across the globe. Whether you’re a journalist, activist, or just walking down the street in your own neighborhood, you can fall victim to police brutality.
Know your rights, take down the cops’ badge number and video tape. These incidents teach us that racism and injustice are key factors in how police officers “enforce the law”. One common factor that we can actually find hope in is solidarity. Worldwide unity of the oppressed is unbelievably powerful.