Fitting Human Rights Into The Promise Of America

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By now the video of Walter Scott’s shooting death by police in North Charleston, South Carolina has reached most Americans and even overseas. Before its release many, not least, the Charleston Police Department, believed Officer Slager’s version of events even thought it is clear that he blatantly lied, even placed an object on his dead body. Were it not for the video, Walter Scott, like too many African-American men and women gunned down by police, would have been blamed for his own death. The North Charleston PD, like so many police departments across the country were quick to believe their officer and blame the victim who could no longer speak for himself. It is encouraging that Officer Michael T. Slager is charged with 1st degree murder. It is infuriating that it took a cell phone video to even get a him charged.

Given recent history, there is much skepticism, that despite the video evidence, Officer Slager will become one more police officer who will walk for taking another civilian’s life, and add to the long list of travesties of our justice system. Such stories are all too common. African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, who die in altercations with police at higher rates than other groups, but do receive not national news coverage. Police officers all too often are given only a slap on the wrist.

Black Lives Matter Black FridayUnited States’ politicians, even President Obama, during discussions last weekend concerning the framework for securing a nuclear arms deal with Iran, repeatedly referred to Iran as the largest state sponsor of terrorism. Iran is far from a perfect country but this is hypocritical for two reasons:

1) Saudi Arabia remains ruled by an absolute monarchy that is incredibly oppressive to its citizens. Yet the United States touts it as our closest Arab ally. Saudi Arabia is a country that prevents women from driving and conducts public beheadings. The only  difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia is ideology. One we like; the other we do not.

2)  As an African-American, my heart aches when hearing these stories. As an American, I grow more and more irritated by how we tout ourselves as a beacon of human rights, yet proceed to criticize other countries for their human rights abuses while at the same time offer excuses for other countries who ignore the human rights of their citizens. Watching American family after family grieve for their loved one, and the U.S. justice system fail time and again to make right and offer amends for incorrect and heinous actions leaves me numb. It is mendacious for us as Americans to believe our country is a safe haven for justice and human rights when clear and convincing evidence demonstrates we are not.

Critics of the deal with Iran question how President Obama could negotiate with a country that calls for Israel’s destruction. Without question this is unacceptable, from any country. But name one harm Iran has actually committed against Israel. To that end, contrast Iran’s anti-Israel rhetoric coupled with inaction, to the actions of the United States, a country that prides itself on holding “truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… Life, Liberty…”, and maintains a justice system that while parading, ‘Equality Under the Law’ while metes out injustice to too many Americans. With each news story detailing an African-American being gunned down by police, and resulting in no retribution for taking another life, America’s rhetoric of guaranteeing its citizens freedom, liberty and justice seems more like a facade … and the world is watching.

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World wide images and footage of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri being teargassed and attacked by police armed with more weaponry than American troops who invaded Iraq & Afghanistan, while chanting ‘BlackLivesMatter’ brought down the cloak of idealism many around the world had of the United States and what it means to be an American citizen. Police killing Americans, particularly of color, is nothing new. Change through political action is necessary, no doubt, but fitting human rights into the promise of America requires acknowledgment that the original promise was made to a few, namely white males.

Nearly 250 years into America’s history that status quo remains little changed. Still many politicians ignore the inequalities in American domestic life, and exhibit the same condescension toward other countries in our foreign policy. If a government fails to do right by its own citizens, what evidence is there to suggest it will behave any differently in its foreign relations? Iran’s president Hossan Rouhani came to the negotiating table not out of national pride but because of his promise to his electorate to ease crippling economic sanctions and end Iran’s isolation in the international community. Iran possesses oil/gas reserves and other important minerals, which countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and India are eager to purchase.

This raises the question why American politicians are adamantly working against President Obama’s attempt to create constructive relations with Iran when much of the international community, including our allies see the economic potential in doing so? With the global economy still in recovery, are our politicians truly concerned with the best interest of the American people, or their personal agendas? The same question applies to race relations and police brutality in the United States. The Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson police department says that police were targeting African-Americans for petty infractions, fining them and then using the money to fund their municipality. Do politicians see the value in protecting all American life, or just about lining their pockets?

If the Islamic Republic of Iran can reach a tentative ‘meeting of the minds’ with the United States considering the mistrust between our two countries–an agreement that if implemented stands to benefit the Iranian people, allowing access to the basic necessities we in the West take for granted, such as food, medicine & electricity, it is more than reasonable to demand that the politicians who pledged to serve the citizens of “the greatest country the world has ever seen”, take action that benefits all Americans, not just the privileged.

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