America: Exceptionally Violent
by William Skink
When it comes to violence, is America exceptional? I mean, is there any other nation that asserts the right to drone-kill thousands of people at the whim of our dear leader? And we do it in an exceptional way, just ask our exceptional killer-president:
President Barack Obama stood behind the podium and apologized for inadvertently killing two Western hostages – including one American – during a drone strike in Yemen. Obama said, “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” In his 2015 state of the union address, Obama described America as “exceptional.” When he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, he said, “Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional.”
No disagreement here, Mr. killer-president. We all know you make exceptional efforts not to murder civilians with your drone strikes. So what if the actual evidence indicates your exceptional standards are bullshit:
Obama insists that the CIA and the U.S. military are very careful to avoid civilian casualties. In May 2013, he declared in a speech at the National Defense University, “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”
Nevertheless, of the nearly 3,852 people killed by drone strikes, 476 have reportedly been civilians. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), which examined nine drone strikes in Yemen, concluded that civilians were killed in every one. Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer at OSJI and primary author of the report, said “We’ve found evidence that President Obama’s standard is not being met on the ground.”
Domestically, American police can be exceptionally violent as well. Take Baltimore. While most media outlets will focus on damage to buildings, a little context about police violence in Baltimore is warranted, because it includes violence toward a pregnant woman and an 87 year old grandma:
The 87-year-old grandmother was named Venus Green. A former teacher with two college degrees, she spent her retirement years as a foster parent for needy children. She was on her porch one day when her grandson ran up crying for an ambulance.
He’d been shot.
The article goes on to tell her story from a legal document in her successful lawsuit:
Paramedics and police responded to the emergency call, but the white officer became hostile. “What happened? Who shot you?” Green recalled the officer saying to her grandson, according to an 11-page letter in which she detailed the incident for her lawyer. Excerpts from the letter were included in her lawsuit. “You’re lying. You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you are lying.”
“Mister, he isn’t lying,” replied Green, who had no criminal record. “He came from down that way running, calling me to call the ambulance.”
The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it. He shoved Green against the wall.
She hit the wooden floor. “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”
After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain. “My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.” An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent. The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.
For even more context, let’s compare some numbers. I’ll start with the caveat that we actually have no way of knowing precisely how many people are killed by police every year because police killings aren’t officially tracked. That said, police in America killed more people in just the month of March than the UK police have killed…since 1900:
A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.
Don’t bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming.
I used to claim America is in no way an exceptional nation. Clearly I was wrong.