As I’m very fond of saying, it is important to build an international image and support for People of Color. International travel is essential to keeping one’s perspective and to build humanity. I didn’t understand my own country half so well as when I left it and began to see through the eyes of those who live in other countries. As masses of people continue to mourn and protest the unreasonable deaths of young men and children color, there is fellow feeling streaming to America over the Atlantic from Europe.
It is heartening to know that people in other countries understand that grave injustice has been done. They see the racism clearly. Newspapers all over the world have written extensively about the deaths of unarmed black males and the reactions have been completely sympathetic. These nations may have their own racial issues, even rampant xenophobia, but anyone, anyone can understand that shooting unarmed youths or choking a man to death for a seeming infraction is the sign of a society that has lost its ability to measure proper response and employ mercy as its guiding principle. The international community has gone to great lengths to show its support of those who are protesting, to show American protesters that they are not alone.
London “Die In” Protest
One such response came from London, England last week where hundreds of people closed down a shopping mall by holding a “Die in for Eric Garner”, the American black man who died after being held in an illegal choke hold by a New York City cop on Staten Island. 76 people were arrested at that protest. London has had the high profile case of Stephen Lawrence, to overcome, a young black male who was killed by racists who went unpunished at first, but ended in the conviction of the killers. The outrage was such that it fueled a national conversation on race, changed perspectives, and ushered in new regulations.
The “Die In” was staged by a local group called the London Black Revs (short for “Revolutionaries”) a group made up of black and Asian youths. In a statement on their Facebook page they say:
“We would like to state that this is a non-violent demonstration and we will be joined by international media broadcasting our ‘Die-In’ back to the screens of black Americans in the USA. We need to make our voices loud and heard.”
Say it loud.
Protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe” before going silent and lying on the floor as if dead.
In another European country, Germany to be exact, there was elation as the Montana homeowner who shot and killed a 17-year-old, unarmed German exchange student was convicted of murder. This case was barely reported on in the United States and one has to ask themselves why. Not so in Germany. The story was broadly reported in print, online, and on television. The shorthand on the story is that a young German exchange student was out with his American buddies late one night just getting silly and drunk when they decided to enter an open garage looking for more beer to drink. Little did he know that the owner of the home, 29 year-old Markus Klaarma, had purposely left the garage door open hoping to catch one of the young people who had been vandalizing his home in the act of what they in Montana call “Garage Hopping” and shooting them dead. The young German of Turkish decent, Diren, triggered the surveillance apparati that the homeowner had set up and within minutes was dead on the ground with a hole in his head.
“Es ist natürlich eine völlig überzogene Reaktion, auf einen unbewaffneten Jugendlichen zu schießen.(“It is, of course, a completely disproportionate reaction to fire on an unarmed youth.”)
The comments of Germans in response to the story in German news media reports was what one would expect. They condemned the United States as a barbaric country with no morals and a strong gun lobby.
“Reise ich nicht mehr in die USA. Dort lebt man fast so gefährlich wie in Kabul oder Bagdad.” (I no longer travel to the USA. There they live in as much danger as in Kabul or Baghdad.”)
What is most remarkable about the outrage in Germany is that the young victim was ethnically Turkish, a group that is not considered German by many German citizens, but regarded similar to migrant farm workers in the US. He was also Muslim. After a memorial service in Hamburg, young Diren was buried in Turkey. Race was not brought up as a factor in this case, but it could be said that Diren’s coloring would have made him appear Latino or even Black in the darkened garage.
The conclusions one can draw from this case in comparison with other shooting deaths of young males in the States are myriad. Again, one must asks why the story of young Diren was suppressed in the United States? The consensus response from those that I have spoken to about this case is that they felt it was under reported because of fear of the national outcry it would bring because of the way this case was handled as opposed to the others. In Diren’s case, it was handled as it should have been, which has not been the case in other controversial shooting deaths. Diren was shot and killed one day and his killer was charged before the week was out. Not the case with the other shooting deaths of young, unarmed males. Diren was shot and killed in April 2014. By December 2014 his killer was convicted.
Certainly, pressure from Germany played a key role in the treatment of Diren’s case. The Germans themselves set a special prosecutor about the task of investigating the death. US leaders are fully aware that the international world considers the overuse of guns in the USA to be a huge flaw in an otherwise great country. The condemnation of Germany for the death of one of their own would bring more international tension than the government can handle right now. This then begs the question: can People of Color in America receive fair treatment only if they are affiliated with another country? Diren was indeed in the shooter’s home and committing theft. Trayvon Martin was just walking through a neighborhood while being stalked by another person, who then invoked “stand your ground” as a reason for killing an unarmed child. After speaking with an attorney about the case, it seems that Markus Karma was convicted because Diren had already committed the act and was set to retreat. He presented no threat. “The use of deadly force has to be reasonable.” Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled that Diren’s killer has been convicted for ending the life of an unarmed kid, but this should have been the outcome in all of the cases, even the officer-involved ones. If it was a Person of Color who entered the trap laid by this shooter, it is clear that there would have been no conviction. So even in Diren’s case, justice was not done because the outcome was not based on the teachings of the criminal justice system, it was based on preference.
Now would be a great time to build an alliance with Germany to bring about change in gun homicides among youths of color in the US.