Editorial: US running risk of major racial conflict

A protestor shouts slogans as they march from Manhattan to Brooklyn in New York. Photo / AP
A protestor shouts slogans as they march from Manhattan to Brooklyn in New York. Photo / AP

If the gun lobby in the United States has been impervious to the carnage caused by lax gun laws, it surely cannot continue to ignore the power of phone cameras. Twice in the past week, thanks to a now camera-toting population, Americans and the wider world have not just read or heard about appalling incidents of black men shot by police in circumstances that defy reasonable explanation, they have watched video clips.

One man was lying on the ground restrained by two officers when one of them shot him the chest. The other was in a car with a woman and a child in the rear seat. The woman's cellphone camera recorded the gun pointing in the window and the policeman's voice demanding that she keep her arms visible while her boyfriend slumped beside her, having been shot, she said, as he reached for his wallet to produce his gun permit and driver's licence.

He had told the officer he had a gun permit, she said. The camera recorded the policeman telling the woman, "I told him not to reach for it, I told him to get his hands up." In her shock she was saying, "Please don't tell me my boyfriend's gone.

He don't deserve this, please. He works for St Paul Public Schools, he's never been in jail, he's not a gang member, anything." Later, the state's governor said, "Nobody should be shot and killed in Minnesota for a tail light being out of function. Would this have happened if those passengers had been white? I don't think it would have."

The footage posted on Facebook tells the world why guns make America a sick, scared and dangerous society. It is easy to blame the officers involved, or their training, or the use of racial profiling or racism generally. It is racial fear that causes these tragedies, but it is the proliferation of firearms that makes racial fear particularly deadly in the US. If most of America's legislators prefer not to acknowledge this, black America has no doubt of it.

Five police on duty at a rally in Dallas on Friday were shot dead by sniper fire. Seven others and two civilians were wounded. After the sniper was cornered in a parking building and killed by a robot-delivered bomb, police negotiators said he had told them he wanted to exterminate white police officers. It was just the most deadly of responses to the latest police shootings. In Georgia, a man who called 911 ambushed the policeman who answered the call and both were wounded in an exchange of fire. An officer in St Louis was shot as he walked back to his car after pulling over a driver. He was in critical condition yesterday. In Tennessee, a man started shooting indiscriminately at cars and police on a highway, saying he was angry at the deaths of African-Americans.

There will be a limit to the number of times any racial minority can witness its people suffering this sort of treatment at the hands of police, and now that it is highly probable these incidents will be videoed by somebody nearby, the US is running a risk of racial conflict on a scale that does not bear thinking. Initially, the terror in Dallas appeared to be the work of more than one person intent on vengeance. Next time it might be.

- NZ Herald

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