Checks and Balances
Our imperfections allow racism, hatred, evil, oppression, authoritarianism, war to float in the ether. The problem is that just like the police officers and Redcoats, we have the power to destroy not only the lives of others but our own lives
By Anil Madan
Protest against Tyre Nichols’ brutal beating by police. Pic – Indiana Gazette
It has nothing to do with racism, it has everything to do with racism, it has to do with the enforcement of rules to maintain order, it has to do with the destruction of order when enforcement goes beyond what is necessary, it has to do with the fact that authority is as effective when it is humane, but somehow humans in authority feel a compulsion to be inhumane. Ultimately, it is about the best in men, it is about the worst in men.
Tyre Nichols, a 32-year-old Black man was brutally beaten by five police officers in Memphis and died three days later. The police officers were all relatively young Black men. The police officers are charged with second degree murder. The police say Ty tried to run away from them. They chased him down, beat him up, shot him dead. Really.
They destroyed Ty’s life. They have probably destroyed their own lives. They have destroyed a bit of the lives of Ty’s family members and a bit of their own families’ lives. They have destroyed a bit of life in all of us.
A few days later, Anthony Lowe, also a Black man, a 36-year-old double amputee was shot dead by police officers in Huntington Park, California. Lowe got out of his wheelchair and tried to run away from the police on his stumps. They chased him down, shot him dead. Really.
They destroyed Anthony’s life. Undoubtedly, charges will be brought. They too destroyed their own lives, and bits of the life in many. And they too have destroyed a bit of life in all of us.
These incidents happened in 21st Century America. Really.
One hundred seventeen years ago, in 1906, Alfred Noyes described a shooting by the Redcoats, then the equivalent of the police, as the highwayman tried to run from them:
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.
Undoubtedly, despite video evidence to the contrary, the officers who killed Ty will claim that he threatened them. Undoubtedly, the officers who killed Lowe will say he had a butcher knife that threatened them. Was there a need to pursue him and gun him down when the knife was no longer a threat?
A poem written about Ty or Lowe would evoke no more sympathy for the police than The Highwayman evokes for the Redcoats.
Some years ago, I was waiting to tee off for a round of golf. The Starter (for the uninitiated, this is the person at the first tee who checks that you have paid your greens fee and, seeing that the group ahead is safely out of range, tells you that you are ready to start your round) saw a player in the group ahead miss his second shot with a terrible effort. The player dropped a second ball and took a practice swing. The starter, an overfed bull of a man, screamed at the top of his lungs: “Play ONLY ONE BALL” and repeated the line as if chanting. He screamed into his radio: “Tell the group on Number 1 fairway, ONLY ONE BALL!”
I remarked to my fellow players: “The only thing more obnoxious than a guy with a badge and a gun is a guy with a badge and a radio.”
Of course, as we have seen people with badges and guns are far more dangerous. The Ukrainians have seen this with Putin. The Tibetans, Uyghurs, and people of Hong Kong have seen it with Xi Jinping and his predecessors. The Taiwanese may feel the same sting. History is filled with more examples. In modern times from Myanmar to the Middle East, from Egypt to Cape Town, from Venezuela to Peru, there are dictators and despots playing jury, judge, and executioner.
In America, we take pride in having a system of checks and balances that is designed to guard against usurpation and abuse of power by any one branch of government. We have failed to institute checks and balances at all levels where they are needed most. Businesses sell dangerous and defective products, financial institutions engage in predatory practices, unfairness and scams abound.
To them who see in the cases of Ty and Lowe that there is no narrative other than that Black men are under systemic siege by White police officers, there is the discomfort that the five police officers in Memphis are Black. The comfort is… well, there is no comfort.
The preamble to the Constitution of the United States speaks to forming a more perfect union. We are still engaged in the trying to answer whether imperfect people can do that. In the world writ large, the challenge is that humanity cannot suppress its own inhumanity.
The challenge is to institute checks and balances at every interface of human interaction. Our imperfections allow racism, hatred, evil, oppression, authoritarianism, war to float in the ether. The problem is that just like the police officers and Redcoats, we have the power to destroy not only the lives of others but our own lives.
And for some reason, we seem to feel a compulsion to use our destructive powers.
It has everything to do with being human, it has everything to do with being inhumane.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 3 February 2023
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