STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
Late fall 2019 my daughter, Sana, a medical student had a test in Philadelphia and the next day she started a month’s course in a Brooklyn hospital. My son, Faisal and I decided to drive her over as moving airport to airport, lugging a huge bag on short flights is extremely inconvenient.
There was another reason for me. Having travelled extensively to New York over the years, it was mainly Manhattan, Long Island or Queens. To me Brooklyn and Harlem were no go areas. I found them intimidating. Having a daughter live alone there had me worried.
We reached her residence in Brooklyn early evening. Most folks we saw were black, including her landlady, a police officer with a young daughter. As my kids unloaded and settled I sat chatting with the landlady. We developed a comfortable rapport and I shared my concerns with her. She heard me out, gave a big smile and said “Mr. Khan you are educated and appear well travelled, try not to stereotype.” I was embarrassed and her words still reverberate in my mind.
That is what most of us do in real life. We generalize people by color and develop perceptions viewing those who look different through colored lens. We lose our objectivity. Being from South Asia, prejudices based on the color of our skin is part of our upbringing. These centuries’ old perceptions may not change overnight but they need to be confronted.
This can happen only in established, stable and free societies that have progressed in multiples areas. It’s not possible in restrictive societies that choke dissent and crush it ruthlessly. Our perceptions about the American society may vary, but we have to accept that their edifice and foundations are built on popular will.
A social revolution began in USA on May 25th 2020 sparked by the lynching of George Floyd by a white police officer. We have seen protest rallies in over 100 cities and the number of participants continues to grow. Supportive marches have taken place around the globe. The disgust against systemic racism, denied by Trump’s team, is taking roots in demanding justice and equality.
The participants are white, brown and black. All segments and age groups are incensed by Floyd last three words “I can’t breathe” under the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin. A veteran of 17 years with history of using excessive and brutal force. The clamor for reform in policing is a rising storm. It’s not only the laws on the books; it’s the mentality and sensitivity. This should trigger reforms in USA to be followed by other countries living under the tyranny of police brutality.
It happened under President Trump’s watch gearing up for re-election. He is the most divisive President in contemporary history. He never acted as the president for all Americans, only for his voter base. He is going to face some strong head winds. He mismanaged COVID-19 response causing much pain and anguish. His combative nature and intolerance to minimum dissent is part of history.
His reaction to Floyd’s murder has made matters worse. A few events stand out. On 28th May, protests took an ugly turn. In bigger cities protesters were infiltrated by miscreants starting fires and looting shops. Some fires were started close to the White House. Sensing danger, President Trump took cover in the White House bunker. The news leaked causing amusement for critics; macho man running for cover. It deeply incensed the President who is hyper sensitive about his image.
On June 1st a large crowd was protesting in Lafayette Park across from the White House, guarded by police and National Guard. Suddenly army trucks rolled in and troops took up positions with other forces. Attorney General Barr oversaw the unfolding scene. Suddenly the forces pounced on the protesters pushing them away using tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades.
What followed is comical if the president of the most powerful nation was not involved. The President emerged from the White House accompanied by members of his cabinet and General Milley, the Army Chief. They walked across to St. John’s Episcopal Church. The President stood against the boarded entrance for a photo-op holding up the Bible. A futile attempt to counter the “bunker” episode. A few days later the President gloated at the ease with which crowds were disbursed.
A while later a 75 year old man was callously pushed to the ground in Buffalo by police. He cracked his skull bleeding on the footpath. Caught on camera, it infuriated the nation. As he recovers in the ICU, President tweeted that he was a provocateur of a leftist group ANTIFA. It has emerged that Martin Gugina is a prominent pacifist widely known in his circles.
President Trump’s insensitivity is eroding his support and building resolve of the protesters. 1400 sports heroes and icons have signed up to support a bill to end police brutality. Crowds are pulling down monuments of supporters of slavery. Bi-partisan attempt to change the names of military bases named after Confederate leaders has been ruled out by President Trump.
The events indicate that the elections in November are going to end up being a referendum. Forces of change led by millennials versus President Trump supporting status quo of an unjust system. His urge to dominate and prevail is a slippery slope. His failure to heal the nation and condemn racism could easily end up costing him his Presidency.