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Racial Tension in the USA
Nov 29, 2014

A white police officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager in an American suburb. Accounts vary as to whether the black youth posed any serious threat to the officer. One thing is certain though; he was unarmed and he was shot multiple times. Protests erupt in the suburb of Ferguson outside St Louis, Missouri, where the incident occurred on August 9, even as police withhold name of the officer citing death threats to him and his family. Ferguson is about 70 percent white and 30 per cent black.

The matter is serious enough that President Obama consults with his aides, Attorney General and Senior Advisor—both African Americans—and issues a statement calling for calm and restraint over the unfortunate death of Michael Brown, the black youth.

Everyone hopes the matter will go away, except the affected community in the United States, a country with the highest documented incarceration rate in the world—worse that any totalitarian state or dictatorship. At 743 adults in prison per 100,000 population, it is home to 25 per cent of the world's prisoners.

By some accounts, blacks form 40 per cent of the country's prison population. There are 3,042 black male prisoners per 100,000 black males in the country, compared to 487 white male prisoners per 100,000 white males. The likelihood of black males going to prison in their lifetime is 28 percent compared to 4 percent of white males. If a Black male drops out of high school, he has an over 50 percent chance of being incarcerated in his lifetime, as compared to an 11 percent chance for White male high school dropouts. Nearly half of all death row prisoners are black.

These numbers, with minor variations, have been bandied about for years. But no fixes are in sight as Michael Brown becomes yet another signpost, and eventually as statistic, in the relentless underlying racial tensions that erupt periodically.

Brown was different from the racially-profiled black youth who constitute majority of the incarcerated population. He had recently graduated from high school and was days away from starting college. He had no criminal record.

But for reasons yet unknown and unexplained, he got into a confrontation with a police officer, during which, the police say, he assaulted an officer still sitting inside the patrol car and tried to snatch his gun.

Brown's friend who was walking with him says the confrontation began when the office told them to "Get the F88k on the sidewalk" as he drove past them in a police cruiser. He says the officer then backed up to them, grabbed Brown by the neck and shot him while he was still inside the car. According to some witnesses, he then emerged from car, and shot Brown in the back and brought him down even as the young man raised his hands and said screamed he was unarmed.


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