Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On the recent police killing of a Brooklyn teen carrying a hairbrush

A young man was fatally shot last night in a hail of 20 bullets fired by five police officers who responded to a 911 call in Brooklyn. The police said they believed that the man, Khiel Coppin, 18, had a gun. But when the gunfire stopped, it turned out that he had been holding a hairbrush.
More here

Recently, my brother traveled back to India for what was a routine visit home to see his family. He studies culinary sciences at a University here in the United States and I am sure he wanted to try his new found cooking skills on his family back home. The flight usually lands at Bombay and then one catches an onward local flight to Bangalore - the town (now it is a bustling city), where we grew up. On landing at Bombay a random group of passengers were sorted into a separate group and were herded into a waiting line for no apparent reason. After a couple of hours, they were half heartedly told that they would be searched and checked for validity of passports and documents.

Questions on the seemingly random course of actions elicited blank stares and threats of police action from the officials. After the random group was submitted to a partial search of belongings and scrutiny of papers (the process took another couple of hours and the officials could not find anything incriminating), they were told to wait in another room. You must remember that most of the connecting flights were long gone at this point in time. In between, my brother was solicited by seedy characters for cash, electronics, perfumes, alcohol and other imported articles. After another couple of hours of what seemed now like an endless wait, they were let go and told to find the next available flight for their onward destinations with a verbal promise that they would be refunded. Bewildered and confused, when my brother approached an airline official for explanations and an apology, they looked at him as if he were an exotic alien who had just landed on this planet. With little will and energy left to fight the system that did not explain (after a seventeen hour flight from the States, nobody is in any mood to press on), he waited for another four hours before managing to land a 'lucky' seat for his flight onward to Bangalore. He told me later that calls were never returned and he never got an explanation or the incident at the airport. Efforts to coerce the officials with any kind of legal threats were dismissed with indifference and veiled implications of the use of lethal force.

It is only when one experiences the indignities to civil rights and individual liberties that get trampled on blatantly in other countries does one realize the importance and the luxury of having them and taking them for granted here in the United States. The United States still stands as the single greatest country that can safely assimilate people into its great fold, warts and all while helping individuals feel secure in understanding ones potential abilities, capabilities and talents. Of course, on bright sunny days, one might complain occasionally about living in the worlds greatest debtor nation or the fact that the country is controlled by capitalist mavens who oil the wheels of profits by hiring lobbyists in Washington, or the fact that we are fighting an unjust war trampling on the world, but the fact remains that the rights and liberties offered to individuals stand far above the madding crowd that are characteristic in many countries around the world.

The incident above has the same parallels that define arbitrariness that sometimes accompany police actions, the fact that people tend to act first and talk later (if they talk at all). In a painful flash of memory, I was also reminded about what happened to a friend and neighbor who lived two streets away from our home during a simpler time in my childhood - of the police barging into his house sans warrant for entry, him not being seen for a couple of days after the incident and me chancing upon him about a month after - the same neighbor now seemed to have a missing leg and was barely recognizable - features a bloody pulp.

It is these same flashes of memory that return to haunt when I had chanced on the story of Amadou Diallo a while back or when I read the story of Khiel Coppin today.

It is fairly easy to descend into mindless anarchy and violence in the name of upholding law. Sometimes, little explanation is offered for some of these actions other than the single mind-numbing word ‘security’ (as is the fashion these days). It is however, far more difficult to count from one to ten as the rage sets in while simultaneously balancing the situation in front of one’s eyes with the clarity offered by concepts of justice and well being and then deliver a measured response. A little respite and thought before people act out senseless fantasies like the one that took place in Brooklyn yesterday evening might be small steps in keeping the ideals that fashion and help sustain this great country.

References:

Political Debates Between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The papers of George Washington

Hidden Costs of the Iraq War

Declining Civil Rights Enforcement Under the Bush Administration

The international debt cycle and the United States as an external debtor

Lari Pittman, ‘Thankfully, you will have taught me freedom within constraints’, 1999, acrylic, alkyd and spray enamel on panel, 64” X 95”

3 comments:

Tree said...

(Having trouble with Blogger, will try again.)

This is a great piece, Sunil and I'm glad you posted it.

Jafabrit said...

That is why my husband has little interest in going back home, he just doesn't trust the system.

Oh my, a hairbrush :(

Sunil said...

Kimberley and Corrine,
Glad you enjoyed it.