Policy Alert: Ferguson Protests Spark Reactions from Rising Powers
Protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, and spread across the country after a grand jury on November 24 decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown. This triggered nationwide discussions about racism in American society. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, Japan, and Brazil on the Ferguson incident.
China, a frequent target of US criticism over its human rights record, used the Ferguson incident to blast the United States for what the Chinese media deemed “human rights violations.”
- “Racial tensions cut deep in the US, a country that always points its fingers at other countries on the issue,” wrote Xinhua writer Li Li.
- “Unfortunately, the Ferguson incident is, rather than being isolated, only a dot in a string of injustice events that stains America’s reputation as “the champion of human rights,” critiqued Lu Jiafei, a Xinhua writer.
- The state-run People’s Daily slammed the Ferguson decision as a “miscarriage of justice and a violation of human rights.”
- “It’s no surprise anymore to walk into many American communities and schools these days to be reminded that de facto segregation still exists widely in a nation which lauds itself for upholding human rights,” commented Chen Weihua, deputy editor of China Daily USA.
Russian officials and media covered the Ferguson protests heavily, criticizing President Obama’s inability to “handle his own domestic affairs” and the US administration’s failure to “protect human rights.”
- Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich criticized that “The US authorities are demonstrating sham care for protestors in foreign countries but do not stop short of using force to crack down on internal protests.”
- Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights envoy Konstantin Dolgov stated that the violent protests in Ferguson “reflect simmering US tensions over racial discrimination that could undermine the country’s stability.” He added, “We may only hope that US authorities seriously deal with those issues and other serious challenges in the human rights field in their own country and stop what they have been doing all along recently- playing an aggressive mentor lecturing other countries about how to meet human rights standards.”
- A statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry chimed in on the criticism, “The latest events in Ferguson are just another, very worrying signal for the American government that it is finally time to focus on their large-scale internal problems in the sphere of upholding human rights…rather than engaging in baseless and futile mentoring and propagandistic moral preaching to other countries.”
- State-run news agency RIA Novosti reported that protestors in Ferguson torched a caroperated by journalists from Rossiya Segodnya news group, which owns RIA Novosti.
Indian newspapers and commentators expressed grim views on the state of racism in the United States while debating President Obama’s response to the Ferguson incident.
- The incident “holds up a mirror unto the troubling state of race relations in America,” positedThe Hindu. “African-Americans of all backgrounds…face a daily, ongoing threat to their lives and security, given the toxic mix of historical prejudice and law enforcement’s gun culture.”
- Narayan Lakshman, a correspondent for The Hindu wrote, “The Ferguson episode shows hownothing has changed for the African-American community since Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation into law in 1863.”
- He rebuked the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch for his handling of the case: “If the country’s juridical proceedings can thus be manipulated to undercut minority communities seeking justice, then a quiet undercurrent of racist stereotyping in the wider society perpetuates the notion that these communities are legitimate, even deserving, targets of malign official power.”
- The Times of India columnist Renuka Bisht criticized that President Barack Obama’s “detached” message since the Ferguson verdict-respect law and order, protest peacefully, don’t break the law to protest miscarriage of law-“has little connect with the sense of anger in Ferguson.” This is “[w]hy black kids are feeling let down by black president Barack Obama.”
- The Pioneer expressed a different view, arguing that “President Barack Obama has done well, despite being goaded, not to add his voice to the controversy by taking sides. Had he waded into the issue, things could have taken a turn for the worse.”
Japanese media outlets voiced concerns on the problem of racism in America.
- The Asahi Shimbun called the Ferguson case “a modern-day lynching,” noting the “disheartening” history of racism against black Americans and quoting Mark Twain, who, in his 1901 commentary titled “The United States of Lyncherdom,” condemned lynching as an “epidemic of bloody insanities” that formed a shameful chapter in U.S. history.
- The Sankei Shimbun lamented that the problem of racism still persists in the United States even after half a century, pointing out that the black community feels “laws are not being fairly enforced.”
- The newspaper argued that American society must strive for President Obama’s vision of “one America” that transcends political and racial divides.
Coverage in Brazil focused on the Ferguson protests themselves and the history of racism in the United States. In some circles, it led to introspection and criticism of the Brazilian police, which are often disproportionately violent toward Brazil’s black communities.
- Many of the largest media outlets, including O Globo and Folha de São Paulo, focused their coverage on the history and legacy of American racism. The O Globo editorial warned that “Brazil is making a mistake adopting racialized American policies, like quotas [affirmative action], derived from that culture.”
- Civil society groups examined the racialized violence of Brazilian police. Mônica Francisco, a civil rights activist, wrote in Jornal do Brasil that in Brazil, similar to Ferguson, a black majority lives within institutions controlled by whites, where police often kill with impunity.
- In an interview with the online portal Favela 247, Átila Roque, the head of Amnesty International Brazil, declared that “what happened in Ferguson happens every day in Brazil.” She elaborated that of the 30,000 people between 15 and 29 who die each year in Brazil, 77 percent are black.
- Mac Margolis, an American writer for Bloomberg View based in São Paulo, sounded a similar note in a piece also published in Folha de São Paulo, discussing the significantly higher rates of police violence and impunity in Brazil.
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