America’s pain and shame

Most Bahamians have been transfixed by U.S. social media and television accounts of the trauma tearing apart major American cities following the unlawful killing of a black unarmed man by white Minnesota police officers, one of whom pinned him down by kneeling on his neck.

The United States is our nearest neighbor, our largest trading partner and the source of more than 80 percent of all visitors to our country.

Thousands of Bahamians have obtained higher education there, including our present prime minister, who attended the University of Minnesota.

Countless more have family and friends who live there.

It is THE shopping mecca for thousands of us and the location of choice for Bahamians seeking specialized medical attention abroad.

It is also the country we turn to and from whom we gratefully receive assistance in times of crisis, whether in search and rescue for missing aircraft or marine vessels or emergency relief following natural disasters.

We, like many around the world, have long bought into America’s own propaganda that it is a “City on a Hill”, a country to be emulated with standards to be aspired to.

That view has made America the choice country for immigrants throughout its existence, accounting for the melting pot of nationalities and races that make up its population today. And that view persists even though we know the pitfalls of the “ugly American” abroad and the injustices of Jim Crow laws that preserved racial segregation in the southern states up to the mid 1960s and which continue to shape racial attitudes in some even now.

We know of the tendency of some American law enforcement officers to harass, arrest and kill Blacks, particularly Black men. Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s Saturday reflection put it succinctly: “The history is clear and tragic: George Floyd was an African American man who died at the hands of a police officer. This is a narrative which has been repeated often and in multiple locations across the country. The history is well documented, but it is known experientially in the African American community in a way that is not widely shared.”

In 2008, America surprised the world and elected a Black man, Barack Obama, as president.

Notwithstanding, cracks in the veneer of racial harmony persist even in the most enlightened parts of the country, including Minnesota, a socially progressive state.

In the past, Minnesota sent men like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale to the U.S. Senate. Seeking the American presidency in 1984, Mondale chose a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate.

Today, both of the state’s senators are women: Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, considered moderate progressives.

That last week’s racist horror played out in Minnesota had to exacerbate the pain of American minorities who continue to face seemingly insurmountable barriers to equality in a country that fought a civil war that brought an end to slavery there 155 years ago. And, it must have especially offended the overwhelming majority of white Americans who do not agree or support racial intolerance, bigotry and discrimination.

That so many whites have joined protesters demanding justice for the murder victim reassures.

Support for protesters from the white establishment – political leaders including the leadership of many law enforcement communities – also helps to dispel despair.

Tragically, the demands for racial justice in America, which have garnered widespread and growing support among its citizens, are being drowned out by the destruction being driven by troublemakers and looters motivated by selfishness and materialism and worse, by some with narrow political agendas that have little to do with the promotion of equality and the public good.

We feel America’s pain.

We support the aims of peaceful demonstrators pleading for justice for George Floyd and demanding reform of systems that perpetuate injustice and we condemn the senseless destruction of life and property by lawless looters.

We recommend that Bahamians, outraged and saddened by events in America, seek to become better citizens of The Bahamas; to recognize instances of discrimination and prejudice against those amongst us who do not look or sound like us and, in the words of America’s Spike Lee, seek to “do the right thing”.

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