An officer in Cleveland was acquitted of manslaughter last week despite firing 49 shots at an unarmed couple in their car. Even without knowing all the facts, there is something in that statement that just shouldn’t sit well with any reasonable human being. Add in the context that the policeman was white and the victims black and this starts to feel all too like a number of other cases in the public eye in recent months. The case of unarmed citizen Eric Garner for example who died after being held in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo despite repeating the phrase now synonymous with this broader issue “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Or the case of the John Crawford III who was shot and killed without warning by police in a Wal Mart in Ohio for picking up an unloaded air rifle off the shelves of that same store. And in this case Melissa Williams and Timothy Russell two unarmed civilians who were shot at 137 times by police, 49 of which were from the gun of officer Michael Brelo whose job it should be to protect them as US citizens.
So I intended to mostly focus on US current affairs with this blog, since that’s where i’m living and it felt like I might have a more interesting perspective as a foreigner. However, the announcement by the new Conservative government in the UK last week regarding the potential repealment of the Human Rights Act (HRA) left me speechless. And so ironically I felt compelled to write about it.
When it comes to human rights, as a Brit, there are many events and times in our chequered history that represent, colossal sized blemishes. During the heights of imperialism the way we treated inhabitants of the countries we colonised was nothing less than despicable. While not to excuse any of this behaviour it also has to be understood within the context of its time. The world in general pre-1900s was one of attrition, nationalism, racism, and intolerance. However, in the latter half of the 20th century huge strides have been made towards establishing basic universal human rights and by this time Britain was at the forefront of helping to institute these. After being one of the first countries to stand up to the atrocities of Nazi Germany, in the years ensuing that catastrophic war it was pivotal in the establishment of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR was drafted by the Council of Europe, led by British MP and lawyer Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, as a way to prevent the types of atrocities from WWII from ever happening again.
I never studied American history at school. I suspect this may have been in part due to the bias of the UK education system towards historical events where Britain came out ‘on top’, whatever that means. But I digress. Anyway, from what I do know, America is a country that was built by immigrants and entrepreneurs. Immigrants it seems have an outsized propensity to become entrepreneurs. This is no doubt due to the fact that there is something innately entrepreneurial about someone that chooses to leave their home to start afresh in a new country. And so it was in America, immigrants came, swiftly became Americans and with this entrepreneurial spirit ensured rapid economic development and significant individual wealth creation. This is the massively condensed version of course. But the ethos of hard work accompanied by a lack of social constructs impeding socio-economic mobility is what became known as the American Dream.