Racial sensitivities

August 18, 2014 - 1:23:54 am

The unrest in a US town after the killing of an African-American teenager underscores fraught racial ties.

Race relations in the US have been roiled after police shot dead an African-American teenager in a Missouri town. Ferguson has seen severe rioting by protesters, who mostly belong to the community of Michael Brown shot dead by a police officer on August 8. Looting and vandalising of shops has marked the unrest that has gripped Ferguson, drawing international headlines and underscoring the sensitivity of race in the United States. 

Barack Obama had weighed in on the issue a few days ago, by asking law enforcement authorities to exercise restraint while dealing with protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. 

The United States has a history that saw the nation grapple with racism in the early twentieth century. Racial segregation had become the bane of a society, which did not see African-Americans eligible for many jobs and vocations. Public transport and schools practised segregation without much contrition. However, it was civil rights activist and pastor Martin Luther King Junior who led a nationwide movement, which galvanised American society against the perils of racism. The King, as the widely acclaimed rights activist was popularly called, played a vital role in freeing American society of the evils of racism. African-Americans adore him for leading a movement for their emancipation. 

With progress, societies generally move towards better social ties and ‘ethnic secularism’. It has been true of the United States as well. Given its ethnic diversity and geographic spread, the country has a liberal record of assimilating numerous ethnic groups in its fold. 

It is hard to find perfect social structures. So is true of the American society. Though it has largely been successful in assimilating African-Americans, kinks sometimes distort the picture. In Ferguson, the unrest has caused people to ask questions about racial bias. Ferguson police has come under heavy criticism for the shooting of the teenager and the situation going out of control in its aftermath. Yesterday, US Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform an autopsy, besides the one being conducted by state medical examiners. Holder called for the federal autopsy “due to the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family.” 

Police say that the dead youth was asked by a patrolling officer to move to the sidewalk from the middle of the road. However, the officer shot him when he tried to enter the patrol van and reach for his gun. Ferguson police stoked the riots after it released a video of Brown being caught robbing a convenience store hours before the fatal shooting.

Race relations being a fraught issue, it is important that the administration and law enforcement authorities exercise caution in dealing with the situation. The administration has lessons to learn so that Ferguson is not repeated•