Racial tensions erupt in US again over shooting of black youth

A white police officer shoots dead an unarmed black teenager in an American suburb. Accounts vary as to whether the black kid posed any serious threat to the officer. One thing is certain though; he was unarmed and he was shot multiple times. Protests erupt in the suburb of Ferguson outside St Louis, Missouri, where the incident occurred on August 9, even as police withhold name of the officer citing death threats to him and his family.

Anonymous hackers disclose name of the officer on social media and threaten to publish his photograph if the St. Louis County Police Department does not address their concerns. Anger courses through black communities across the nation. Ferguson is about 70 per cent white and 30 per cent black. The matter is serious enough that President Obama consults with his aides, Attorney General Eric Holder and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett — both African Americans — and issues a statement calling for calm and restraint over the unfortunate death of Michael Brown, the black kid.

Everyone hopes the matter will go away, except the affected community in the United States, a country with the highest documented incarceration rate in the world — worse that any totalitarian state or dictatorship. At 743 adults in prison per 100,000 population, it is home to 25 per cent of the world’s prisoners. By some accounts, blacks form 40 per cent of the country’s prison population.

There are 3,042 black male prisoners per 100,000 black males in the country, compared to 487 white male prisoners per 100,000 white males. The likelihood of black males going to prison in their lifetime is 28% compared to 4% of white males. If a Black male drops out of high school, he has an over 50% chance of being incarcerated in his lifetime, as compared to an 11% chance for White male high school dropouts.

Nearly half of all death row prisoners are black. These numbers, with minor variations, have been bandied about for years. But no fixes are in sight as Michael Brown becomes yet another signpost, and eventually as statistic, in the relentless underlying racial tensions that erupt periodically in the “greatest democracy on earth,” just like social tensions that plague the largest democracy on earth.

Brown was different from the raciallyprofiled black youth who constitute majority of the incarcerated population. He had recently graduated from high school and was days away from starting college. He had no criminal record.

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