HAVANA TIMES — When I arrived in the United States for the first time last summer, it had only been nine days since Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man, had been tragically killed in New York, after a police officer had put him in a chokehold following his detention.
Garner was the victim of a brutal arrest, on suspicion of illegally selling. The detention was recorded using a mobile phone and subsequently divulged. In the recording, we see Officer Daniel Pantaleo practicing a chokehold on Garner, who is lying face down and saying “I can’t breathe!” Medical examinations later revealed he died as a result of pressure exerted on his neck and chest during the time of his detention.
This, however, was not enough to convince the Grand Jury to accuse Pantaleo of homicide in December of that year, or so the legal sources quoted by the CNN said. The exoneration of the white police officer unleashed angry protests in New York.
A mere 23 days later, all news programs spoke of nothing but the death of Michael Brown, a 19-year-old African American who was shot dead by a white police officer on a street of Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9.
Darren Wilson, the officer who killed the young black man, had an entire record of systematically violating the civil rights of the black population, carrying out arrests without apparent reason and using excessive force, particularly when dealing with the African American community.
Despite the wave of protests unleashed in several States, Wilson was exonerated. The declarations made by Dorian Johnson, the young man who was with Brown when the incident took place, whose account demonstrates the officer’s intent, and the statements made by State Justice Secretary Chris Koster, who said he was disturbed by statistics that reveal that Missouri police officers detain far greater numbers of black drivers than they do white drivers, did nothing to change the verdict.
Nothing stood in the way of officer Ferguson being acquitted of all charges by the US Department of Justice on November 24, when it was decided that the officer acted out of fear and without criminal intent (and therefore did not violate the civil rights of the young African American).
I had already returned home when I heard another horrifying bit of news: on November 20, 28-year-old Akai Gurley was shot down by Peter Liang, an Asian-American rookie, in Brooklyn, New York. The day after the incident, New York Chief of Police Bill Bratton acknowledged that the victim was entirely innocent.
According to the police version, two officers were patrolling the projects and ran into Gurley, who was entering the building with his girlfriend, at a dark stairwell. One of the officers apparently fired his gun accidentally, hitting the victim’s chest.
The two white officers, however, were absolved (one in Missouri and the other one in New York), prompting another wave of protests.
On March 6, as winter was drawing to a close, the debate about police brutality against African Americans and the persistence of racism in the United States was rekindled, when Anthony Robinson, an African American teenager, was murdered by the police in Madison, Wisconsin.
The man responsible was 45-year-old officer Matt Kenny, who, on July 15, 2007, had killed Ronald Brandon in similar circumstances and was acquitted. The Criminal Investigations Division claims to be looking into what happened. Robinson’s death also prompted immediate protests at the place of the crime.
This past April 4, in South Carolina, 50-year-old Walter Scott, a Coast Guard veteran and father of 4, became the latest victim of police brutality in the United States. A video recorded by a passerby reveals how a police officer shot the unarmed African American in the back several times.
The officer presumably detained Scott because of a faulty headlight and, on discovering he had an arrest warrant over a child support issue, the man fled the scene. The police officer shot him eight times in the back and proceeded to cuff him when he was lying down motionless on the ground, without offering him any aid. Scott died at the scene.
This case joins a long list of black US citizens who have recently been murdered in incidents involving the police. In the midst of the country’s growing racial tension, two NYPD officers – Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu – were shot dead while sitting in their patrol car, by a man who later turned the gun on himself, claiming he wanted to avenge Brown and Garner.”
During his speech at Selma, Alabama, US President Barack Obama commemorated the 50th anniversary of the peaceful rally calling for African Americans’ right to vote, saying “(…) today, the struggle against racism in the United States hasn’t ended (…)”
It’s only been a year since my visit to the United States and five African Americans have already been murdered by the police – and these are only the cases that have been made public. It is not my intention to indict the US system of justice, I have no right to do so. This post is simply a modest way of speaking out against discrimination, no matter what form it assumes, and of mentioning the things I would prefer not to see and hear in the news.