Over the last month, large parts of the country have seethed with anger, first at the decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., not to indict a police officer in the shooting of Michael Brown — 18 years old and black — and second, at the decision by a grand jury in New York not to indict the police officer who placed Eric Garner — 43 years old and black — in the chokehold that contributed to his death minutes later.
The proximity of the grand jury decisions has dealt a blow to the artfully simplistic notion that with Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008, America entered a new, post-racial era. Many Americans now believe that, as far as law enforcement is concerned, the lives of African-Americans — and particularly those of African-American men trying to eke out a living at the margins of the economy — are worth far less than the lives of everyone else.
Moreover, it’s a belief that is spreading. Those persuaded that there were enough procedural and moral ambiguities in the Brown case are finding it hard to reach the same conclusion in the Garner case. We’ve all seen the video of the New York Police Department officers descending on Garner, and we’ve all heard the heartbreaking plea of “I can’t breathe” as he was wrestled to the ground. I’m not alone in reacting with an inner groan of contempt to Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s claim that he was trying to protect Garner from being injured by his colleagues.
In this charged environment, no mental gymnastics are required to understand why slogans like “Black Lives Matter” — something that really shouldn’t have to be said in a civilized, democratic society — become so appealing.
But therein lies the danger. Talk to some of the protesters (or just read the signs they carry), and you will walk away with the impression that police forces across the United States are targeting African-Americans with all the zeal of Haitian death squads. So, instead of discussing policing methods in those African-American neighborhoods where distrust between the cops and the community reigns supreme, and instead of trying to understand the racial bias that informed the actions of the police officers in the Brown and Garner cases, we default to the overarching explanation that America is an irredeemably racist society.
As a result, a political approach based on finding solutions is displaced by a political approach based on pure spectacle — furious protests, chants like “How do you spell ‘racist?’ ‘N-Y-P-D,’” and CNN reporters breathlessly charging after demonstrators blocking the main traffic arteries into Manhattan.
All this, of course, gets picked up joyfully by media outlets like Russian mouthpiece RT and Iranian mouthpiece Press TV, whose mission is to portray America as both tyrant and hypocrite.
However, we are not Russia and we are not Iran. In our political system, all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of ethnic or racial origin. If that principle isn’t being applied consistently, then reform is needed. The key difference is that we can cite that principle as our point of departure, whereas they can’t do that in Russia or Iran, since that principle doesn’t exist in the first place. In Iran, for example, the courts will, a priori, regard a non-Muslim as inferior to a Muslim.
And speaking of odious comparisons, the toxic politics of the Palestinian solidarity movement has emerged in the Ferguson and New York protests. Activists dedicated to eliminating the State of Israel have tried to hijack the debate about policing in America, and the standard, predictable obscenities have flowed as a consequence. A journalist friend who was covering the Garner protests in Staten Island e-mailed me a photo of a sign placed on the spot where Garner died, bearing the words, “Resistance is Justified from Ferguson to Gaza.”
Far worse, a Facebook group pushing the slander that Israel is an apartheid state posted a photo of Jewish concentration camp inmates behind barbed wire with the tag line, “I Can’t Breathe.”
It would be suicidal for those who genuinely want a different, more humane form of policing in America to embrace the strategy of “Palestinianization.” If we end up analogizing African-Americans to Palestinians, then we are condemning them to the status of eternal victims, a useful prop for left-wing radicals to proclaim the hogwash that the world is enveloped by an imperial racism stretching from the American Midwest to the heart of the Middle East. Instead of solutions we will have slogans — and if the slogan for the Middle East is that justice requires the destruction of Israel, then shouldn’t the same apply to America also?
We live in a country that gave the world Dr. Martin Luther King. It is his example, rather than the irrelevant agenda of anti-Semites and murderers like Hamas, that should inform the public debate about policing and race. The Palestinian solidarity movement provides false and offensive analogies that will only deepen the sense of polarization in America, instead of bringing us closer together.