Trayvon: A View From The UK

Trayvon Martin Demonstrators Wearing Hoodies
A Killed Boy Or A Broken Country?

A tweeter questioned today whether I (being British and watching from afar) perhaps don’t understand the anger driving people over the Trayvon Martin shooting. I’d suggested that all sides needed to “chill-the-fuck-out”, following a bounty put on Zimmerman (the shooter) by the New Black Panthers, and the retweet of Zimmerman’s address by film-maker Spike Lee (which turned out to actually be the address of an old couple).

It’s true that, from afar, it’s hard to really take the pulse and understand people’s feelings in a foreign land – although Twitter does help convey the emotion of the event far better than the “old media”, where events are cleansed through the minds of journalists. It’s been possible to watch the reaction emerge hour-by-hour: incredulity that Sanford police didn’t arrest a killer; the obvious racial stereotyping that was going on; the shouts of racism; the counter-accusations from morons determined to find fault in a 17-year-old unarmed boy who had been killed; the bizarre, peculiarly American polarisation, splitting the country in half over a case where the basic facts seem so simple.

It’s true, I’m undoubtedly missing local, cultural nuances, watching¬† from London, but I have some advantages; it’s easier to see bigger pictures from afar; and I have the advantage of comparison. How would this same story unroll in the UK, mainland Europe or elsewhere?

There was a time, before mine, when America was viewed here with little but admiration. The US presents itself so effectively; Hollywood had packaged and presented a place that was exciting and free (if somewhat violent). But coming of age in the early-80s, that time had already passed. The civil rights era and Vietnam had tarnished America’s claim to being the land-of-the-free. By the time I could follow politics, America, under Reagan, was the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, and a threat to the independence of small states. I had Chilean friends who had fled Pinochet’s regime of terror, backed to the hilt by Reagan. South African apartheid was holding together, largely because of quiet backing from the US, and nearby states such as Angola were being torn apart by US-backed insurgencies. The small Caribbean island of Grenada was directly invaded to prevent a left-wing government taking over. US-backed terrorists were killing thousands in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and more. The Afghan Mujahideen, precursor of Al Qaida and the Taliban, was skinning Russian soldiers alive, backed with US funds and arms.

We also learned that life in the US was different from the Hollywood view. British reggae band UB40, a favourite of mine at the time, wrote a song in 1981 called Tyler, about Gary Tyler, a young black man from Louisiana who had been obviously framed on a murder charge; yet not one person, police, judge or jury, stopped him from going to jail. Similar stories were to be heard frequently. The freedom mask was slipping.

I first went to the US in 1989, and have been perhaps 15-20 times since. I fell in love with San Francisco and other cities, and began to see a 3D picture behind the 2D portrayals. As I visited more, I went more off the beaten track. The segregation was the first thing to surprise me. It seemed the civil rights movement hadn’t settled racial issues as I’d thought, but merely ended in a ceasefire. White flight left black populations inside cities, while the suburbs were white. And notably, the sight of a mixed-race couple, which was becoming commonplace in London, was extremely rare, even in “liberal” bastions like New York or San Francisco. I began to see that police brutality was so common, it could happen right in front of even me, a tourist. The police acted with such arrogance and authority, I began to wonder how such a police state could exist in a country that believed itself to be, not just a democracy, but THE democracy.

I saw homelessness on a scale I’d never seen in Europe or elsewhere. I visited black ghettos in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and saw a desperate, poor, lawless country, unlike anything I’d seen before. I saw that thuggish police drove around the ghetto outskirts, the message clear: you do whatever you want inside, but don’t you dare step outside. US ghettos aren’t just poor neighbourhoods; they are drug-infested, crime-infested prison camps.

I saw the reality of a country without universal healthcare. People everywhere living in fear of the simplest thing: falling ill. I’d been born two decades after the establishment of Britain’s NHS, and the idea that people in the richest country could have to cope without medical care was shocking. Today, universal healthcare is even appearing in Africa: Ghana was the first to implement it there, a few years ago. And yet America is currently tearing itself in half over Obama’s simple proposals to ensure that people are covered by insurance.

I began to be sure of one thing in America’s future. There’s a revolution coming. Or perhaps more accurately, there’s a permanently rolling, rumbling revolution ready to burst to the surface when it can. Why else would military-style policing be needed on a daily basis? How else do you explain an incarceration rate higher than China or the Soviet Union at their worst? I began to wait for the trigger.

In 2000, the election was blatantly, publicly rigged to bring George W Bush to power. Voter lists had been casually cleansed of black-sounding names. Florida police had been physically stopping black people from voting. In the 21st century, the old South was still there, plain as day. The US journalist Greg Palast quickly exposed the scam in a short film. But not one media network in the US would show it. The US media was censored to the hilt. The film was instead shown on BBC TV’s Newsnight – I’m not sure if it’s ever reached American TV, and YouTube didn’t exist back then. Then Katrina hit, and the world saw a third-world population living in the middle of the world’s wealthiest country.

In late-2001, four black friends of mine came to visit London from Houston. At the time, London tourism had been badly hit as Americans had cancelled flights, post-9/11, so I asked my friends whether they’d been afraid to travel. One of the girls looked at me and said “We’re black. We live in Texas. Pretty much anywhere is safer than home.”

In 2011, Occupy Wall Street, a remarkable grassroots movement, exploded into life from apparently nothing. Putting aside arguments over its approach or lack of policies, what has been most obvious is its violent suppression. The scenes coming from New York or Oakland aren’t scenes from a free country. The first amendment seems to no longer apply on America’s streets.

Violence, daily police harassment, police killings with impunity are the day-to-day experience of many Americans. Meanwhile, in TV-land, perfectly coiffured blondes report on a version of reality that doesn’t seem to exist if you walk the streets of an American city. The shooting of Trayvon Martin inevitably crystallised the rage.¬† The screaming over racism-or-not, justified-or-not doesn’t capture what I see: a place that’s so afraid of itself that it’s possible to debate whether killing of an unarmed man may have been justified. Whether Zimmerman was racist or not, he was conditioned enough to see a threat in a lone, unarmed black teenage male. He was scared. From here, all of America seems scared. Of what? Of “black crime”. And Muslims. And Latinos. And immigration. And drugs. And people-muscling-in-on-my-hard-earned cash. And getting sick. And terrorism. And Iran getting nukes. And Iraq getting WMDs. And Communism. And Somali pirates. And Hugo Chavez. And Fidel Castro. And people peacefully protesting against injustice in the streets. What sane wealthy country would need to build gated communities?

The people who are least afraid are the ones who most deserve to be. America’s minorities seem to be weary, fed up, and angry. The rage around one boy’s shooting is a small taster of what is to come. America: You can’t lock up everybody, although you seem to be trying to. Egypt and other countries showed that the most brutal policing won’t keep people in their place forever.

The US is a country that feels it should “police” the globe. In practise, US wars bundle up the racism, fear and hatred prevalent in US society, and inflict them, unwanted, on the rest of the planet. If the US ever did have a moral right to intervene in other countries, it long since surrendered that right. All this can be fixed: get corporate money out of politics, put the police in their place as servants, not masters, reduce prison populations, introduce modern healthcare, stop letting the ultra-rich set the media agenda. Alternatively, perhaps you should revisit your national anthem: land of the free and home of the brave? That’s not how it looks from here.

Moron Media Ignores Iran War Build-Up

New York Times Iraq War
Where Is The Free Press?

It was pretty clear, except perhaps to morons, that Bush and Blair were building up for their attack on Iraq long before war was declared in March 2003. Most people will still remember the huge global day of protest in February 2003. Most populations, with the notable exceptions of Israel and the US, were strongly against the war, and most people were well aware that the Iraqi “threat” had been concocted. People were also unconvinced that Saddam’s “evilness” constituted a reason for war, especially since he had been armed and supported by the US for years before he was identified as a “bad guy”.

London’s march on 15 February 2003 was the largest protest in British history: over a million people demonstrated against the war. However, that protest was not the first; 400,000 Londoners marched against an attack on Iraq in October 2002 – itself one of the largest marches ever seen in the UK. Already in October, most intelligent observers knew that the decision had been made, despite the Bush/Blair lie machine claiming that our leaders were still “hoping for a peaceful resolution”. Years later, we discovered we’d been right: Blair had already given his backing to the neo-con war plans in March 2002, a full year before the war began.

We weren’t fortune-tellers or mind-readers; we simply knew some history, and could see that the public was being softened up with scare stories about Saddam Hussein. Likewise, we already knew in 2002 that the neo-cons planned to attack Iran. On a successful “liberation” of Baghdad, they would continue on to Tehran. Fortunately, the Iraq war was incompetently handled, and the US became bogged down, preventing a new front from being opened. But the war on Iran wasn’t cancelled, just postponed.

As I’ve observed repeatedly over recent years, the only reason Iran hasn’t been attacked is that, with wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US doesn’t have enough military capacity. It’s no coincidence that, alongside the recent US troop withdrawal from Iraq, America has also opened dialogue with the Taliban (yes, those same evil-doers that they were going to wipe out in 2001, remember?) The US now has plenty of capacity for a new war – and when in recent history has it ever failed to take advantage of such a position?

The excuses for attacking Iran are as patchy as those for attacking Iraq. They may be developing WMD (in the form of nukes)… but the US has been saying that for years, and there’s still no firm evidence. Even if they are, there is nothing in international law to prevent Iran from owning nukes – Pakistan and Israel both developed the bomb in secret, resulting in relatively little fuss. There are simple lies aimed at the most gullible morons: Iran says it wants to wipe Israel from the map? False. Iran denies the Holocaust? Also false. Then there are truthful claims about Iran’s human rights record; yet Iran is no worse than many US allies: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Uzbekistan to name a few. The US never – repeat Never – goes to war in order to defend human rights (in any case, wars can only make the situation worse for the people of Iran, and make it impossible for them to rise up against the regime).

You’d hope that enough Americans would have learned the hard way, from Iraq, or Vietnam before it. But most Americans rely on the US mass media for facts, and (as we saw in Iraq) the US mass media is incapable of holding the military-industrial complex to account. The New York Times famously apologised for its Iraq coverage; most US newspapers and TV channels were even worse, but failed to apologise.

Now, here we go again. We can see there is a war coming, because US troops are being deployed, rapidly and in large numbers, to the region. This is hardly a secret. Russia Today reported on January 5th that thousands of US troops were being deployed to Israel. The latest edition of The Economist confirms that 9,000 troops are in Israel, and a further 15,000 on their way to Kuwait. Western-backed terrorists – probably Mossad or the CIA – have already been carrying out attacks against Iranian military facilities, and have murdered at least four scientists.

The case against an Iran war is even simpler than the one against Iraq. Unlike Iraq, Iran has never attacked its people or neighbours with WMD. Indeed, it was Iraq that attacked Iran with chemical weapons in the 1980s; weapons that were supplied by the Reagan administration. Yet morons seem to never learn; and the moron media in the United States seems no more willing to tell the truth about this coming war than they were in 2002/03. Iran’s huge reserves of high quality oil hardly need mentioning.

The UK government is making supportive noises of the coming American war; Cameron will undoubtedly follow, but without the support of the population, just as Blair did. This time, much of the EU is also on board. The Obama administration may be no less warlike than the Bush regime, but it’s clearly more skilled at diplomacy.

When Blair took us to war, MI5 told him we would likely experience terror as a result. on 7 July 2005, 52 Londoners were killed on public transport, and hundreds injured. If we attack Iran, we expose ourselves to new terror – which in turn will create new justifications to continue this eternal American war. The next war is coming soon; our leaders are terrorists, and are inviting terrorism upon us; mass-murder will, yet again, be done in our name. And we have no choice but to resist.