Earlier this month, a jury in Florida acquitted George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of 17-year old African-American Trayvon Martin. The contentious trial and long-awaited verdict roused a range of opinions by the international press with much of the commentary focused on the role of race in the shooting and ensuing response. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, India, and Russia on race relations in the United States.
- The South China Morning Post editorialized that while “eliminating racism may never be possible,” the United States should focus on practical changes in its gun laws to ensure that “gun-toting citizens who appoint themselves law enforcers have no place.”
China’s own unique demographics – over 50 ethnic minority groups, though Han Chinese comprise around 91 percent of the population – provide an interesting perspective on race relations:
- In an April 2012 Global Times op-ed, Rong Xiaoqing noted that racial tensions in the heterogeneous United States are often more complex than they appear at first glance. Unlike “Hollywood movies where good guys and bad guys are so clearly labeled,” he wrote that a multitude of factors mean the real world “isn’t a question of black and white, but of shades of grey.”
- Covering racial tensions in Los Angeles today, Xinhua acknowledged progress in easing conflict but declared “there are still problems that need to be addressed at a communal level 20 years after the Los Angeles riots.”
- Xinhua reported on a recent Gallup opinion poll that showed over half of African-Americans felt“dissatisfied with the societal treatment of their race” in the United States. Xinhua indicated, however, this view has significantly improved since Barack Obama was elected president.
Media outlets in India commented on legal structures in the United States and the raw emotional impact of the verdict on African-American families:
- The Hindu led off its editorial on the Zimmerman verdict by declaring “race has once again torn a deep gash through the conscience of the United States.” Citing statistics on the experience of African-Americans interacting with law enforcement and the courts, The Hindu concluded “there is literally not a square inch of ground for [black Americans] to stand on.”
- In an op-ed for International Business Times, Palash Ghosh empathized with the sadness and deep emotions he saw at protests in the United States after the verdict. He wrote that for “black people, particularly for black parents with sons, the tragedy of Trayvon Martin strikes at the very heart of their worst insecurities, fear and anxieties.”
Russian commentary on the Zimmerman verdict was largely silent due to preoccupation with U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden, but some outlets contrasted protests in the United States with recent demonstrations in Moscow:
- Natalia Antonova, editor-in-chief of The Moscow News, remarked that protests in the United States following the verdict were “an amazing show of self-restraint – as opposed to the nationalism-fueled protest that took place on Manezhnaya Square in Moscow when football fan Yegor Sviridov was shot dead by a man from Russia’s North Caucasus region following an argument on the sidewalk.”
- The death of Kimani Gray in March 2013 – an African-American teenager shot by two NYPD officers – elicited strong criticism in a Russia Times op-ed, pointing to Gray’s death as evidence of the imperfect model the United States sets as a global leader. “Kimani Gray’s murder has become a symbol of America in the ‘Age of Obama’ – a country that presents itself as the protector of justice and righteousness while perpetrating injustice and genocide at home and abroad. Whether killed by a New York cop or a Predator drone, a neighborhood watch coordinator or a U.S. Marine, countless innocents are being killed by the United States and its machinery of death and oppression.”