Our shared duty to Eric Garner and Mike Brown

This post was initially published on our Facebook page on November 26, 2014. We have updated and published it here.

We were recently asked why Sixteen Minutes to Palestine — a Palestine-centric blog — reports outside of its scope on the shooting of Mike Brown, the choking death of Eric Garner, and the nationwide protests these and similar tragedies have sparked. We figured that the best response would be a public one, where we would be able to reiterate our mission statement and our values and show how important it is to connect with allied struggles for justice.

SMP specifically explores the richness and authenticity of the Palestinian identity. We present news, first-person accounts, and visual content related to Palestine as a way of highlighting our vibrant culture and history and maintaining our own narrative.

The Palestinian struggle is unique in many ways, and many have characterized it as the human rights struggle of our time. But it shares many values with other critical social justice struggles around the world. Government corruption in Mexico has turned the police against the citizens and further marginalized those of a lower socioeconomic status. Governments that collaborate with Israel, in Palestine and in neighboring countries, have similarly turned Palestinians into second-class citizens, denying them of their basic rights. Gentrification in urban neighborhoods throughout the United States has forced many minority groups into poverty, limiting their access to schools, hospitals, and fresh produce. Similarly, the Israeli government sponsors settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories, effectively displacing Palestinians, restricting their access to their own land, and imposing virtually total control of their movement. These are just two of the seemingly infinite connections that exist between struggles. As unique as the Palestinian struggle is, there are things we can learn, teach, and share in order to make each struggle that much more effective.

More relevant to today’s major news stories, black Americans are frequently gunned down by police officers, security personnel, and vigilante neighborhood watchdogs. These are individuals charged with keeping our streets safe. In reality, they are proof of an entrenched system of institutionalized racism that any person of conscience is obligated to challenge.

Statistics show that another black American is gunned down by some kind of police or security authority every twenty-eight hours. Rarely are the shooters held accountable. The message this sends is that black lives do not matter, that black Americans are knowingly subjected to state-sponsored violence and that there is no plan to change that.

This very disturbing reality is seen in many parts of the world, including Palestine. In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military has murdered well over 1,000 Palestinian children since 2008. The Israeli government faced very little international condemnation. In the West Bank, Israeli police and soldiers routinely shoot and kill young Palestinian men. Despite documented evidence exposing many if not most of these shootings as cold-blooded and racially-motivated murders, the shooters are cleared of wrongdoing and, in some cases, are even celebrated as hometown heroes. In other incidents, Israeli police have been known to stand idly by as armed Israeli settlers threaten to kill Palestinians or set fire to their property.

Black Americans know this all too well. Mike Brown’s murder was not the first of its kind, and considering the government’s response to the demonstrations, it will likely not be the last. Eric Garner’s murder was also not the first of its kind, and the fact that those responsible for these kinds of things are immune to repercussion is a clear indication that we are in dire need of a social revolution. There is nothing more disturbing than expecting more lives to be lost.

Again, neither of these murders are isolated cases. Eric Garner was killed in July after a New York City police officer moved to arrest him. Although Eric posed no threat, the officer placed him in a tight chokehold for nine seconds. This maneuver had already been formally banned by the department. Eric, whose last words were “I can’t breathe,” died an hour later. Now, the New York City Police Department was already embroiled in controversy over its stop-and-frisk policy which earned the department widespread condemnation for the way it targeted black Americans. Eric’s death wasn’t the result of a stop-and-frisk procedure but it was certainly related to the way New York City police officers are taught and trained to respond to black men and women: with violence.

Mike Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in a town where most of the population is black and most of the police are white. In cities like Ferguson all across the United States, black Americans face steeper punishments for lesser crimes than their white counterparts. Black Americans are more likely to be harassed, beaten, and even killed while in police custody than any other group. These trends date back many, many years, and have a distinct historical connection to the slavery era, a dark chapter in America’s history that institutionalized the very inhumane notion that blacks are inferior.

Because of the deep-seated nature of racial discrimination in the United States, this abhorrent attitude still exists. Granted, it may not be as blatant as it once was, but that only means that racism against people of color and specifically black Americans has taken on a more subtle and a more dangerous form.

But how is it more dangerous? The shooting of Mike Brown explains why. Because much of the public is convinced that racism has been overcome in the United States, Mike Brown’s death is commonly viewed as a one-off incident. Some have even characterized it as a coincidence that has no bearing on this country’s longstanding history of racism. This has caused many Americans to conscientiously deny the racial undertones of the shooting or, for that matter, the many other shootings that have precipitated Mike Brown’s death. It has encouraged these same Americans to attempt to discredit those who understand Mike Brown’s shooting to be a part of a greater trend of racial injustice and inequality in the United States, including those who experience this kind of racial violence on a daily basis. The racism has permeated American society so silently that people can’t seem to recognize it even as they peddle the very same racist notions they say were overcome in America’s past.

In other words, racism is alive and well in the United States, and instead of challenging it, state and federal governments are investing in the tools, the manpower, and the heavy fist needed to quiet those who refuse to be silent. In addition to demonizing those who are fed up with the race-related police brutality, the system has gone to great lengths to protect its own. In a span of just eight days, two separate grand juries decided not to indict the individual officers responsible for killing Mike Brown and Eric Garner.

As Palestinians, as allies of Palestinians, or as people committed to social justice in general, this grave reality should alarm us to action. The fact that black Americans are devalued in the United States and that their blood can be shed with impunity should stir the anger within us. Although this problem did not begin in June when Eric Garner hit the pavement and subsequently lost his breath or on that August afternoon when Officer Wilson hit the unarmed Mike Brown with six bullets, it has certainly woken many people up. If you feel you haven’t woken up yet, this is your opportunity to do so, to look around and to begin to recognize all of the elements of discrimination meant to keep black Americans down. This is your chance to make a positive difference — not just by declaring your commitment to justice but to act on that commitment.

SMP is only a blog. It is run by the smallest team you can imagine. It is hyper-focused on one issue: the Palestinian struggle. But even if the racial injustice that defines this country had no relation to Palestine, we are still responsible for doing our part and acting on our commitment. This is why we report on issues that seem so far outside of Palestine. In reality, they aren’t distant issues at all. They are actually connected by a common thread: the will to overcome injustice.

We will do our best to own up to our commitment. We ask that you do the same.

And please remember, no life is any less or any more valuable than any other.

There is one comment

  1. Noelle Clearwater

    Hello Sami,
    Thank you so much for posting these words. I was at a demonstration/vigil for Eric Garner tonight in Santa Barbara. So many of my online friends from Gaza and their children have posted photos with signs in support of Eric Garner, protesting police violence against Black Americans. One photographer from the West Bank offered a photo montage,contrasting photos of Black Americans being held in a choke hold with photos of Palestinians being shown the same treatment by the IDF. Another photo in the same album featured a Palestinian child with a sign saying “I can’t breathe.”. The Palestinian support for Black people in Ferguson and now for Eric Garner and those holding vigil for him has been deeply heartening. I think that it shows that they fully understand military and paramilitary control and brutality and know what it feels like to be victimized. Palestinians always help me to see that we are all one family. I will always work for justice in Palestine and in the United States. Thank you Sami for who you are and all that you do here.
    Salam,
    Noelle

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