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Jacksonville shootings proof that racism is alive and kicking in the US

A man holds a sign in support of gun control outside of The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting in Jacksonville. Picture: Joey Roulette/Reuters

A man holds a sign in support of gun control outside of The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting in Jacksonville. Picture: Joey Roulette/Reuters

Published Sep 3, 2023


THE fatal shooting of three black residents in Jacksonville, Florida in the US, has brought back into sharp focus the ever-present racially-charged danger that lurks against African-Americans in the land of their birth.

A young white man with swastikas painted on his rifle had seemingly planned to mow down black students at the Edward Waters University.

He pulled into the university parking lot and was seen by terrified students as he put on his tactical gear. Students immediately reported him to the campus security officer, who approached the gunman.

His cover blown, he sped off before the campus security officer could take any further action against him.

The man drove less than a kilometre away to the predominantly black community of New Town, and stopped at the popular Dollar general store.

There, out of burning racial hatred, he drew his rifle and fired indiscriminately at black people, killing three before turning the gun on himself in a sheer act of cowardice.

The Jacksonville shootings last weekend have reopened debate about the inherent threat to black lives in the US.

The threats manifest themselves in many ways.

They come in the form of racist police who mischievously hunt down black folks on motorways, residential roads or on foot, and unleash the worst form of violence against them at the smallest excuse available.

Often state violence against African-Americans results in fatalities. Over the years, the list has grown too long.

This year alone, the victims include:

* Tyre Nichols, aged 29. He was killed by police in Memphis, Tennessee, ironically the vicinity of the Civil Rights Movement not far from where Dr Martin Luther King jr made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

The other irony was that the police officers who killed Nichols were themselves black, giving credence to the argument that the brutality against African-Americans was a structural dynamic where black people often got assimilated into an evil system of race, power and politics.

* Nichols was pulled over by the squad of the police for suspected reckless driving on January 7. They pepper-sprayed and tased him. He was taken to hospital, where he died three days later.

* Also in January, Darryl Williams, aged 32, of Raleigh in North Carolina, was shot with stun guns by the police as they tried to arrest him. He died, and his death was later ruled a homicide.

* In February, Alonzo Bagley, aged 43, of Shreveport in Louisiana, was shot dead by a police officer. The police, responding to a domestic disturbance complaint, arrived at an apartment complex where Bagley tried to run away. They gave chase on foot. After they cornered him nearby, police officer Alexander Tyler shot Bagley in the chest. No weapons were found on or near Bagley, and Tyler was arrested for negligent homicide several weeks later.

* Also in February, Timothy McCree Johnson, aged 37, of Tysons in Virginia, was accused of stealing sunglasses. Two officers chased him to a nearby wooded area where they shot him dead. No weapons were found on or near Johnson. One of the officers, Sergeant Wesley Shiffett, was later fired.

* On March 6, Irvo Otieno, aged 28, of Dinwiddie, Virginia, was being taken to a mental health facility by seven deputies from the Henrico county sheriff’s office. On arrival, and during the intake, Otieno became combative with the deputies, who restrained him. In the process, Otieno died. All the seven deputies together with three hospital employees were charged with second-degree murder.

*Two weeks later, on March 18, Delaneo Martin, aged only 17, of Washington DC, was found by police while fast asleep in a stolen vehicle. After surrounding the vehicle, one officer entered the back seat and ordered Martin not to move. However, Martin began driving away. The officer in the back seat shot him at close range, killing him instantly.

I will not finish listing all cases one by one, but I’m tempted to hurriedly add the killing by the Alabama police of Jawan Dallas on July 2. The next day, on July 3 in New York, Jarrell Garris was accused by a supermarket of stealing fruit.

Police were called and – you guessed right – they shot him dead on the scene after accusing him of attempting to reach for the officer’s weapon.

Also in July, Ricky Cobb II was dead police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after they stopped him for driving without tail-lights. On the first of August, police in Denver, Colorado, shot dead Brandon Cole. The excuses are all too similar.

The gruesome killing of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 grabbed international headlines after a white police offer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine-and-a-half minutes on the street outside a convenience store.

His death sparked international protests. They were led by the US-based civil rights and pressure group Black Lives Matter.

I paint the above picture to show that the shootings in Jacksonville were not necessarily an isolated incident.

Conservative politicians in the US often make inflammatory statements that pay scant regard to the need for social cohesion and racial harmony. African-Americans are by far the minority in the US yet they make up the majority of inmates in prisons.

They also top the statistics in unemployment and general socio-economic hardships in the land of the plenty.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is also the Republican presidential candidate, has previously been accused of employing antagonistic rhetoric on issues of race and social justice. He denounced the Jacksonville shootings and offered $100 000 to each bereaved family.

But State Representative Angie Nixon, whose district includes Jacksonville, accused DeSantis of throwing money at a problem he had helped to create.

She said: “No amount of money can erase the pain caused by years of marginalisation and oppression.”

She further implored DeSantis to “actively work towards undoing the racist system he’s helped uphold and grow”.

Politically, socially and economically, the dice is heavily loaded against black Americans. Although they are supposed to be the citizens of the so-called leader of the Free World, their country still treats them with disdain and the scourge of racial hatred is guaranteed to befall them.

The race question in the US is often hidden behind the country’s cantankerous foreign policy. Invasion of foreign countries deemed the US enemies, control of the direction that Nato must take and its funding, the EU’s geopolitical outlook – all these are part of a long list away from the US domestic politics that keep the suffering of black Americans under the radar.

It is a great pity that the structural defects of American democracy results in the subjugation of African-Americans in practice, whereas on paper they are as free as their white counterparts. It is a great pity indeed.

In the Land of the Plenty, every citizen is supposed to have a seat at the dinner table without any fear of being attacked, and killed, because of the colour of their skin.

Back in the day, it was slavery that was the evil of the time. Today, racism in the US is still alive and kicking. Sad.