The list of racial homicides carried out by American police is getting longer. Over just a few months: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Antonio Martin, David Scott; this week, the homeless man, symbolically nicknamed “Africa,” in Los Angeles, and 19-year-old Anthony Robinson, on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights protest in Selma half a century ago — as well as the police’s violent suppression of it.
And that’s only a few of them. In 2014, police killed more than 600 people from all ethnic backgrounds but they were predominantly black and Latino.
Geographically speaking, these homicides cover the entire United States: Florida, New York, Missouri, California, Wisconsin, from north to south, east to west. In other words, the problem is not Selma in 1965 but the whole of America in 2015. Barak Obama is right: “Selma is now,” he said, and it’s everywhere.
Where does the racism which fuels these crimes come from? Firstly, it comes from contempt: African-Americans don’t count as much — “black lives matter” has been the slogan for protests in recent months.
Impunity and esprit de corps: Not one police officer has lost a job, let alone been sent to prison for having killed a black person. Incompetence: Is it possible that the only method for controlling people who react, or seem to react, to being arrested is to kill them? At the same time, it’s the training: Racial profiling teaches that every young black person is a potential criminal. Then there’s fear and paranoia: In a country where everyone is armed, even suspects are expected to be armed, and the first gesture is answered, like in the mythical West, by being the first to shoot, even at unarmed people.
It used to be said that America acted as the police of the world. In the outskirts of St. Louis and Madison, American police officers act like their country did in Iraq and in Afghanistan after 9/11, spreading fear of terrorism with their sense of omnipotence, imagining weapons of mass destruction where there aren’t any, just like the police officers in Harlem and Jacksonville mistook harmless objects for guns.
On Dec. 28, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida, David Scott was killed by a special team of officers. The sheriff’s office explained: “They saw him hold the object like a gun, pointed it like a gun and was shot 21 times, and struck him in the torso and extremities.” *The object which he was holding, which led the agents into a homicidal panic, was actually a box inside a sock.
In 1999 in Harlem, Amadou Diallo was riddled by 41 gunshots because the police mistook his wallet for a gun.
Then there’s politics. It’s true that Selma is not half a century ago, but today. On the one hand, without Selma, there would be no Obama; it was the civil rights obtained by that struggle which made the election of a black president possible.
But it is precisely the election of a black president which has caused the right wing to bring these rights back into question because it is the signal that so many of the liberties and privileges reserved for white people are not protected like they used to be. This is also because Selma and Obama have provided African-Americans with the incentive to assert their rights as American citizens, changing what it means to be American.
Bruce Springsteen said, “You can get killed just for living in your American skin.” Elsewhere, you can get killed just for being alive. I started off by listing the names of African-American victims in the United States. We could also make our own list for Italy: Aldrovandi, Cucchi, Magherini, Sandri … We have a growing political force in Italy which invites everyone to protect themselves from black people and immigrants by shooting and killing. Let’s be careful.
*Editor’s note: This quote was accurately translated and appears as it did in the original source.