Bias against non-whites

AROUND KANSAS SHOOTING : Racial hatred is not new in the US. But the debate over globalism versus nationalism started by Trump has accentuated racial

After a long eerie silence over the brutal murder of Indian techie Sri­nivas Kuchibhotla, US President Donald Trump finally emerged on Capitol Hill on March 1 condemning as “evil” and “hate” the fatal Kansas shooting: “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centres and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

A day earlier, the White House condemned the killing as “racially motivated hatred”. However, Indian American lawmakers expressed disappointment over the president’s statement saying it lacked specificity. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal alleged without pulling punches that Trump uses “repeated falsehoods” about immigrants to justify the rationale behind his “inhumane and barbaric” executive orders.

Kansas shooting has left not only the entire Indian community but also immigrants from other countries shell shocked. A fear psychosis has gripped them. The killer, Adam P Purinton, a navy veteran, hurled racial abuses before firing shots which left another Indian, Alok Madasani, grievously injured.  However, the hope is not dead: a white American, Ian Grillot, endangered his life to save the Indians and got injured.

The rancour of racial hatred is not new in the USA. But the debate over globalism versus nationalism started by Trump may have accentuated the racial divide. Some figures reveal shocking pictures. In 2015, black men aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be gunned down by police according to data collected for The Count.

The Kansas shooting was carried out by a private individual. But even the police are not free from the bias and there have been several instances of blacks being killed in cold blood by the police. The assault on Sureshbhai Patel by the police in the northern Alabama city of Madison in February 2015 which left him partially paralysed, led to widespread outrage and raised questions about the safety of blacks who are suspected because of their colour.

The incident reminded of the horrific killing of an 18-year-old unarmed black Michael Brown in August 2014 by white police officer Darren Wilson after an altercation. Wilson was subsequently acquitted by a grand jury.

In the USA, the guideline of “objective reasonableness” before using deadly force laid down by the US Supreme Court in Tennessee v Garner (1985) has failed to chasten the trigger-happy policemen. The acquittal of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in March 2015 kicked up a storm in the whole world. Brown’s death in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson became a national flash point on race, justice and policing.

Violence flared in St Louis suburb after the grand jury declined to indict Wilson. The 12-member panel did not find probable cause for five possible charges that ranged from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

‘Objective reasonableness’

What is deeply disturbing, however, is that even courts pronounce these killings, many of them of unarmed victims, as perfectly legal. Chapter 563 of the Missouri Revised Statutes authorises deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” if the officer “reasonably believes” it is necessary in order to “effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony...or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay”.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Tennessee v Garner about “objective reasonableness” enthused human rights lovers as it kindled hope that it would rein in barbaric policemen. But subsequent experiences belied this hope.

In this case, a Memphis cop Elton Hymen shot dead one Edward Garner, a 15-year-old black and unarmed boy who had burgled into a house and grabbed a ring and $10. A Tennessee statute provides that, if, after a police officer has given notice of intent to arrest a criminal suspect, the suspect flees or forcibly resists, “the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest”.

Hymen shot and killed him after he asked him to halt, but the boy fled over the backyard fence of a house at night he was suspected of having burgled. The officer used deadly force despite being “reasonably sure” the suspect was unarmed and thinking that he was 17 or 18 years old, and of slight build. The decea­sed’s father brought an action in federal district court seeking damage for asserted violations of his son’s constitutional rights. The court held that the statute and the officer’s actions were constitutional.

However, reversing it, the Court of Appeals held that the statute is unconstitutional insofar as it authorises the use of deadly force against, in this case, an apparently unarmed, non-dangerous fleeing suspect, such force may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

The Supreme Court ruled that deadly force could be used in case of real threat to the officer or others but required that it should be “objectively reasonable”. But how was it to be determined? It was established by the US Supreme Court in Graham v Connor (1989) that an objective reasonableness should apply to a free citizen’s claim that law enforcement’s officials used excessive force in the case of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other “seizure” of his person.

Notwithstanding these directions, policemen behave qua barbarians as if always on square-bashing and innocent citizens hardly get square deal even from courts which often chime in with the police. It is evident that guidelines given by the court are observed more in breach but there is hardly any action. Trump must act quickly to ensure that justice is done.

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