Ferguson a wake-up call for US

Updated: 2014-09-02 09:11

By Han Dongping(China Daily)

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For decades, the American government and elite have been using human rights as a weapon against other countries. The US has been publishing white papers every year passing judgment on other countries' human rights records - as if it were the official arbitrator of human rights performance in the world - while continuing to rampantly violate human rights both at home and abroad blatantly.

In New York City, police stop and frisk about 600,000 people, mostly minority youths, every year, and on average about 20 percent of these people are arrested for resisting arrest. These American citizens are stopped and frisked by their own police for no good reason except for being minorities. In any other country, this kind of blatant discrimination against the minority population would invoke serious condemnations by the US and international human rights organizations. But since such police harassment takes place in the US, the only superpower, most human rights organizations tend to turn a blind eye to it.

The land of the free, with its rule of law and 5 percent of the world population, accounts for 25 percent of the world's prisoners. There are more than 2.2 million people in US prisons, many of which are overcrowded. So serious is the overcrowding problem and the need to restore some order in prisons that the US Supreme Court has ordered the California state administration to release prisoners prematurely.

Worse, one out of every nine black youths in the US is in prison. In fact, 75 percent of all African Americans have been imprisoned at least once in their lifetime. Also, more than 10 million - or one out of every 30 - people have spent time behind bars. A country that incarcerates such a large number of its citizens, particularly from the minority groups, cannot be the land of the free and protector of human rights. On the contrary, it can only be a violator of human rights.

The shooting of unarmed black youth Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and the protests that followed are not new in the US. Many Americans have been desensitized by police brutality to even react to such injustice.

Hopefully, Ferguson becomes a wake-up call for the American people and government. This is not simply a white and black, or Democratic or Republican issue, because at stake here is human life. American people are said to have the highest regard for human life, and many US states do not have capital punishment. But if Americans really value human life, how could they allow police to use lethal force against suspects? Are police officers' lives more valuable than other people's lives? Should police officers ensure their own safety at the expense of other people's lives? Is just the perception of danger enough for police officers to shoot down someone?

US President Barack Obama should appoint a non-partisan committee to investigate the tragedy in Ferguson and come up with a reconciliation plan, which above all values human life, to end the racial divide and violent police behavior, because if police violence is allowed to continue, it will lead to more tragedies.

The author is a guest professor at Hebei University, China, and a professor at Warren Wilson College, North Carolina, US.