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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Are Black Americans victims of Police Militarization in the US

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Chicago Police | Source: noahwesley via Creative Commons

In the USA, there are reports of police using tear gas, flashbangs, and many other weapons to fight against the riots which are occurring now in over 350 cities against police brutality against the Black Community. There have been many reports on how the police brutality is disproportionate in terms of race; the Black people are thrice as likely to have violence committed on them by the police force than the whites, and the factor is 1.5 for the Hispanics. There is a first-hand account of a person present in the recent protests who talks about the use of batons on demonstrators.

This, however, leads to the question whether it was the militarization of the police force that caused violence towards minority communities. The police militarization was, in the aftermath of the 9/11 US terrorist attack, justified by the policymakers as a necessary tool to prevent the terrorist attacks in the future. This policy decision led to the military grade weapons and military style training regime for the police force. Some of the states in the US partnered with highly militarized police of Israel for training their police force. Such lethal weapons which were provided to the police force  used against terrorists were gradually used by the police force against common civilians on suspicion of minor crimes and the group of protestors.

The civil right groups were voicing concerns for many years about the use of disproportionate force on the Black and Hispanic Americans, which they blamed on the arming of police with lethal weapons. It was the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Montana, USA that galvanised the public to demand for demilitarization of police force. As a response to public anger against the killing of Michael Brown, President Obama set up a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This task force, in its report put special emphasis on de-escalating situations, with civilians in training and policies, and reduced funding by the Department of Homeland Security for such weapons. However these recommendations failed to have much effect on solving the issues at hand.

The continued use of such lethal weapons casts the police force as a separate, powerful entity which is to be feared, instead of a friendly cop who is trying to provide security to a citizen in distress. Such equipment serves to distance the police from the people, giving them power, and if left unchecked, entitlement over the rest of the citizens. In many instances the presence of a weapon itself leads to more aggressive behaviour and there have been calls to make the police wear body cams to restrain them from acting with disproportionate lethal force.

The racial profiling and discriminatory actions against the black and other communities that was already practiced by the police forces was now being enforced by more lethal power in the force’s hands. A study by Olugbenga Ajilore shows that counties with more race segregation were more likely to request additional weapons, and counties with an African American/Asian American population are more likely to acquire military equipment. Another report of 2017 shows a direct correlation between the degree of police militarization and the killing of civilians in police action.

It can be reasonably said that the militarization, in some sense, inflated the already existing racial profiling based violent actions of police force.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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