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US Racial Tensions Story Ripples Abroad

  • Cecily Hilleary

The racial tensions story in Ferguson, Mo. is not only making international headlines. It’s being used by some foreign governments to spread an anti-American message.

For countries whose rights records Washington has criticized, Ferguson offers an opportunity to even the score.

Some governments and media are using some of the same language Washington has used against repressive police tactics in their countries.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it was closely monitoring events in Ferguson and called for “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”

“USA used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest in Ferguson,” Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s State Duma Committee for International Affairs, tweeted August 15. “Is it not a sign of dictatorship and excessive use of force?”

“It is regrettable that countries which claim to [defend] human rights are pursuing such [racist] approaches,” Iran’s Press TV quoted Iranian deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi as saying.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also weighed in on Twitter:


China’s Xinhua news agency suggests it is time for America to stop focusing on “human rights flaws” in other countries and clean its own house.

“In its annual human rights report issued in February, the United States assaulted almost 200 countries across the world for their so-called poor human rights records,” Xinhua said this week.

“However, the U.S. human rights flaws extend far beyond racial issues….What's more, Uncle Sam has witnessed numerous shooting sprees on its own land and launched incessant drone attacks on foreign soil, resulting in heavy civilian casualties,” the news service said.

Europe weighs in

In countries where a more free press flourishes, Ferguson has served as a lens for viewing America’s complex social and economic tapestry.

In Europe, the media coverage has drawn questions about America’s racial divide.

“How can this be happening in an America that has elected a black president?” asks Tim Stanley, a British historian of the United States, in the Telegraph, who concludes that change isn’t likely to come from the White House, but at the street level.

France’s Le Monde calls Ferguson “a cruel metaphor for contemporary America, its tensions, its fractures and its old demons.”

Some coverage has focused on the militarization of U.S. police.

“…the police response to a series of protests over his [Michal Brown’s] death has been something more akin to the deployment of an army in a miniature war zone,” U.K.’s Guardian newspaper comments.

Police mugshot of Die Welt reporter Ansgar Graw, courtesy STL Mugshot

Police mugshot of Die Welt reporter Ansgar Graw, courtesy STL Mugshot

In a lengthy and scathing account of his arrest by Ferguson police, Die Welt reporter Ansgar Graw says he has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and elsewhere.

"To be captured by police, yelled at and be treated rudely by police and to see the inside of a prison, I had to travel to Missouri in the United States of America,” he writes.

Among U.S. allies worldwide, there are critics.

“Australians tend to think the United States is too heavily armed, and that shootings of all kinds are symptomatic of the power and availability of heavy weaponry,” said David Smith, lecturer in American politics and foreign Policy at the University of Sydney.

He said that Australians believe that the U.S. criminal justice system discriminates against African Americans “at all levels.”

That said, Smith admits that Australia has struggled with its own racial divide.

“Like the United States, Australia has a problem with black deaths in custody, which has also caused race riots in relatively recent times. Around the world, white people everywhere deplore racism in the United States, but unfortunately I think this helps us turn a blind eye to our own structures of white supremacy,” Smith said.

Still, for some Americans – and the Obama administration – international criticism is a bitter pill to swallow.

The State Department Tuesday rejected Egypt’s criticism, as well as comparison of Ferguson to situations in Egypt, China or Zimbabwe.

“People are free to say whatever they want. That’s something we believe in very deeply here, is freedom of expression,” Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters at Tuesday’s daily press briefing.

“We here in the United States will put our record for confronting our problems transparently and openly and honestly up against anyone else’s in the world…” she said, “and we would call on other countries to do the same.”

For others, like Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ferguson gives the U.S. an opportunity to demonstrate America’s ability to self-correct.

“Every country has human rights abuses,” Dunne tweeted to VOA Tuesday, “[especially] police brutality. Question is whether there is [accountability] & redress.”

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