America’s perennial angst

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That despite being an economic superpower the United States has severe domestic issues tied to poverty, marginalisation and crime was made even more evident in the recent protests that turned into riots in Baltimore. These riots followed the death of an African-American youth, Freddie Gray, at the hands of the city police in early April and were not a one-off occurrence. They were just the latest in a series of convulsions that has rocked American cities owing to what is perceived as racist policing and targeting of “black” youth by law enforcement officials. Last year in the town of Ferguson in Missouri, similar riots had occurred after a white police officer shot down a black teenager, Michael Brown, in what was perceived as an unprovoked act. The U.S. had also seen a raging public debate over the acquittal of a neighbourhood protection volunteer, George Zimmerman, in the case of the murder of another black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida in 2012. These and other recent incidents suggest a disturbing picture of law enforcement in which African-Americans — especially young males — are unfairly targeted, stereotyped and subject to brutal methods of policing. With dwindling employment opportunities due to insufficient education and poverty, the community suffers from high rates of criminal incidence, stereotyping the young African-American. The problem, which is somewhat different from more blatant issues of racism, segregation and civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, has been acknowledged by President Barack Obama and other politicians, but little has been done to address it.

Baltimore, a city that has a high concentration of African-Americans relative to other parts of the country, suffers from specific issues such as urban poverty owing to long-term deindustrialisation and unemployment. It has very high crime rates with the African-American youth of the inner cities in particular prone to be blamed for them even as they face difficult living conditions. Law enforcement in the city has been characterised by police brutality, and despite a better racial balance than elsewhere in the country in the city’s administration there is a severe lack of confidence in the system among residents. The abysmal state of affairs, which was depicted realistically by the popular TV series The Wire, extends to other inner cities as well. Unless the U.S. rethinks its strategies on crime and punishment with respect to the black community — incarceration rates among African-Americans continue to remain unacceptably high – and until the economic system evolves a way of addressing inner-city poverty, such incidents seem destined to recur. The Hindu

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