In 2017 I went to the wedding of two great friends in California. I had a great time at the wedding and caught up with several other friends in the Los Angeles area before and afterwards. But whilst there I was subjected to an incident that in hindsight I realise must be daily routine for a huge number of African-American people. I was walking down the street to go to a bar for a couple of late night rounds. I’d just crossed an intersection when a patrol car flashed its lights at me, so I stopped and waited to see what the officer wanted. He wanted to see my I.D., told me I had crossed an extremely dangerous intersection and that I should not do it again. After a brief discussion and seeing my N.Z. driver licence which I took in case I needed I.D. to get into the bar, he let me go.
I found it bizarre at the time. I still wonder what he was trying to achieve to this day. There was nothing really dangerous about that intersection – I’ve crossed dodgier ones in other cities around the world including in New Zealand than that. But in the last few days looking at all of the clips on Youtube, on Twitter and on Facebook of people being detained, tear gassed assaulted and so on by the police, I wonder what would have happened if I was an African American male or other non-caucasian ethnicity.
It is only now that I am beginning to realize that the daily struggles of African-Americans and other people of colour is far beyond my worst thoughts. I thought I knew enough to realize that institutionalized racism is very much alive in the United States, but after days of monitoring my Twitter account, it has become unmistakably clear I actually know absolute stuff all about the monster that is institutionalized racism. I also realized that if I am ever to talk to people on honest, and hopefully understanding terms of what they have experienced, I need to understand this better.
The yawning divide between Republicans and Democrats becomes an unimaginably deep chasm it would seem. In New York, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote a day or two after the violence started that local elected officials of African-American descent going to check on their districts had been detained by the New York Police Department. The N.Y.P.D. feature in a large number of videos circulating on social media and not in a good way. In the same state Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have ripped into the administration of United States President Donald Trump for his handling of the crisis. Much has been said about the need to acknowledge and learn from the past.
By contrast the Republican response has almost uniformly been about cracking down on the rioters. Nary a word about the underlying causes, the the white supremacists who committed acts of violence in the hope that African-Americans would be blamed. A good example of the hardline Republican response is a opinion written by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Mr Cotton wrote that it is time for the President of the United States to send in the military to restore order. At no point in that article did Mr Cotton attempt to acknowledge the large and growing number of instances where American police and the National Guard have used excessive force against peaceful protesters. At no point did Mr Cotton acknowledge that in many instances white supremacists had been involved in violent acts in the hope that an unwitting person of colour would be blamed, arrested have have their lives wrecked. Mr Cotton is part of the problem.
I love America for its old ideals that held truth many moons ago, when it proclaimed to be Land of the Free, and a country that people from all walks of live could come to and make a life whilst living the American dream. I love Americans for their warm, generosity and friendliness. But the level of hate, anger, antagonism and deliberate fear mongering now is toxic to a point that after watching years and years of coverage on various social media platforms from people who genuinely hate America and standing up for the America of old, the enthusiasm for defending America is not there any more.
Welcome to the Divided States of America.