As someone from Greece, a country that gave birth to democracy but which has been wracked by continuous social unrest over the last few years, expressed in different ways, from terrorism and riots to a surge in support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, it's been interesting to observe the wave of protests triggered by the Ferguson and Eric Garner unlucky verdicts.
Violence and abuse of power by the police is not confined only to Greece or the U.S. It's a global phenomenon. We see it in every country, albeit with a different frequency or intensity depending on the different social and economic conditions.
But it exists. De facto. And in a way it perpetuates the world's division into "us against them." The "us" are the ordinary people trying to make their lives against the odds as we're at the mercy of decisions made somewhere high above us. "They" are the gatekeepers of power. They do the dirty work of the powers that be and those behind them. They are the police and other law enforcement agents.
This thought lingers at the back of our minds. It persists, sometimes justifiably and sometimes by circumstance. My question, as a person who likes to question things rather than rush to provide answers, is why we see the world divided this way and how we express this belief. Is it how we show the alienation we feel as a result of this abuse of power? Or is it how we frame our hope of overturning a society with which we're dissatisfied?
In my country, Greece, there were also protests these previous days, some as violent as those in Ferguson. The protests were sparked by the sixth anniversary of the shooting of a fifteen-year-old boy by police. The police officer and his partner were convicted and are serving jail sentences. Blind police violence and abuse of power were thus censured by the state, yet protests were staged solely in memory of this tragic event.
Solely? Maybe not. Greeks, suffering under austerity measures imposed as a consequence of decades of bad political choices as well as global political and economic manipulations, sought to express that their discontent with a system that has lost their trust. And what stands between "us" and the system, is "them." They are the system's bodyguards. Their actions are sometimes flagrant. Sometimes perhaps even disquietingly instigator. Witness the number of videos on the internet showing individuals with bags of Molotov cocktails mingling with police officers.
Look at Peru. Last January, it passed a law effectively giving police and the military a "license to kill." It's hard to shake the image of the cold-blooded murder of someone resisting eviction from his home. No one was convicted, just as in Ferguson and in the death of Eric Garner.
The numbers are scary. Since 9/11, some 5,000 fatal incidents involving American police officers have been reported. These fatalities are tantamount to a small war being waged inside the country. Some of the victims were innocent. They were killed accidentally or as the result of a misunderstanding. How many were convicted for these mistakes?
There's a lot of talk about racist motives. Are there? The data show that most victims were Hispanic or African American, while most police officers in the U.S. are white.
So in a city like Ferguson, where the population is 67 per cent African American compared to just three per cent of the police force, it's easy to understand the context of "us against them." And, of course, reaction will be more extreme than in cities or states with higher living standards.
The numbers though elsewhere aren't necessarily different. According to 2012 data for New York: African Americans account for 28.6 per cent of the population but 87 per cent of police victims. Whites are 33.3 per cent of the population but account for just four per cent of police victims.
Do we need to examine these figures from a racial perspective or should we be more concerned with the authoritarianism of police power?
As I said earlier, I'm a person who likes to question things.
A quote by Charles Bukowski, one of my favorite American writers, comes to mind as I mull all this. I smile. Fill in the blank as you like:
"I have more faith in my plumber than I do in the _________. Plumbers do a good job. They keep the s**t flowing."