Friday, November 28, 2014

A crash course on civil rights

Black lives don’t matter. That seems to be the message that the grand jury verdict in Ferguson, Missouri gives.

Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Legal and police experts concur that Prosecutor Robert McCulloch could have decided on his own authority to prosecute Officer Wilson. But he decided to punt it to a grand jury. Had the races of aggressor and victim been transposed and a black police officer had killed a white teenager, I think he would be awaiting trial. This is borne out by an incident in July 2014 in the same county. The same prosecutor Robert McCulloch pressed felonious assault charges on black police officer Dawon Gore for striking a white light-rail passenger with a baton after an argument. He was jailed on a $3500 cash-only bond.

Sadder yet is the composition of the grand jury. St. Louis County has a population of 21,000 and is 67% African-American and 29% white. The grand jury was made up of nine whites and three blacks of supposedly randomly picked citizens. All they needed to decide was whether there was probable cause to indict Officer Wilson and send the case to trial. Nine votes were needed to indict him.

Like it or not there is a hierarchy of color in our country. Highest on this list is a white child. And going downwards come brown people and lowest are young black males. The country was convulsed with grief with the Connecticut school shootings in which the victims were largely white children. But no one really talks about the daily victims of gun violence in Chicago; the majority is impoverished black children.

Michael Brown had stolen a bunch of cigarellos from a store in Ferguson and when challenged by Officer Wilson was, according to Officer Wilson’s testimony, aggressive and full of expletives. Wilson testified that he tried to move Brown’s arm and felt that he was like “a five-year old holding onto Hulk Hogan”. Wilson shot Michael Brown twice while he was pushing into the police car with his body. Brown then started to run and Wilson gave chase. When Brown turned around Officer Wilson fatally shot him in the head, well aware that he was not armed. Why would a police officer escalate a theft to shooting an unarmed person? Whatever happened to disabling a felon by shooting at an extremity rather than the trunk? Are cigarellos cocaine?

Unfortunately this situation is a very tangled web. Every 28 hours a black person is killed in the United States either by a police officer or a vigilante. As a doctor, I understand this frequency to qualify for what we define as an epidemic. This is not a new statistic. Young black males have been on our endangered species list for decades. But being on the bottom of that hierarchy, racked with poverty, addiction and crime, society seems to be smug that young black felons are self-selecting out.

Police and legal experts also report a symbiotic relationship between police and prosecutors. Prosecutors protect police witnesses in court and the police influence the prosecutor’s decisions. It is true that situations such as the Wilson-Brown incident happen very fast and hindsight is always 20/20. But we have not enshrined accountability in police culture, and thus granted them impunity. The parents of Michael Brown want the Michael Brown Law passed in which police officers would wear body cameras. There is a move toward this in some police departments already.

It is also an entire mindset that we must change: from individuals and families recognizing that all of us are created equal, to communities and the nation being color-blind in their protection.

Racism is rife in the Greater Toledo area as well. In a previous office location in Perrysburg, one of my middle aged African-American patients decided to bide his waiting time and enjoy the sunny day by sitting in a chair next to his car and working on his phone. Suddenly the police showed up, wondering whose new Chrysler he was sitting next to. “It’s my car” he said. Unable to charge him with anything, the police left. I remember I was more outraged than he was.

Ferguson businesses have been burned to the ground, and protests are picking up all across the nation and internationally.  Prosecutor McCulloch has deeply undermined our justice system and brought segregation in our country into sharp focus. Officer Wilson should have been charged and gone through an open public trial. It would have been wise and visionary to let justice take its course and to have learned from the Rodney King and Trayvon Martin cases. And suddenly the entire nation is being given a crash course on civil rights.  


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The tipping point in Pakistan

Pakistan owes its creation to the vision of Allama Iqbal, the tenacity of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the blood, sweat and tears of the muhajir .

The Sharif coterie is suddenly irrelevant. Khatir Ghaznavi wrote so famously: go zara si baat par barsoan ke yaraaney gaye laykin itna to hua kuch loag pehchaney gaye: years of friendship dissolved over a minor incident but served to expose some people. Dragging on this disrepute for another three and a half years does not seem possible; the nation’s contempt for the Sharifs is almost palpable.  

Interestingly freedom of the press was given to Pakistan by a dictator, Pervez Musharraf. Freedom of the press is an integral part of a democracy. Despite all the indignant claims of safe-guarding of democracy by the Islamabad menagerie, also known as the Parliament, the Sharif government has swooped down on freedom of the press by closure of the ARY television channel. The blame is passed around; the Lahore High Court did not order ARY’s closure, PEMRA ordered it but PEMRA  does not have a legitimate chief etc., but the fact remains that ARY remains closed in Pakistan. Various television anchors tend to pull down their employers. And when the conversation gets very pointed, Hamid Mir is attacked and GEO is shut down. If Mubashir Lucman goes overboard, which he does more often than not, ARY is reduced to television snow.  

And this is what exposes the self-serving Sharifs. If patriotism was paramount, or democracy dear, why would they strangle the press? But how many fires can they put out? If I get vicarious for a few minutes, their paralysis gives me a panic attack. 

Zardari and the Sharifs excel in verbal embellishments of their intentions and accomplishments. While history will record their pillage of Pakistan as their primary “achievements”, their secret pact for political musical chairs, with power alternating between them, lies exposed and tattered. Bilawal Zardari can be credited for improving his Urdu and introducing transparent tele-prompters to Pakistan. His speech seemed extemporaneous but was read right through. Which in and of itself is not a problem; except for its disastrous content.  

Pakistan owes its creation to the vision of Allama Iqbal, the tenacity of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the blood, sweat and tears of the muhajir (immigrants from India). An Aligarh University graduate, my father would speak of Quaid-e-Azam’s speeches and how they followed all he said to a tee. An Indian Civil Service officer, my father migrated to Pakistan by train, his belongings in a wagon that was completely looted en route. Millions of others were not that lucky, entire trains full of muhajir were massacred. Pakistan was largely a rural society with little infrastructure and the looting and burning had left it without even pen and paper in offices.  

My father joined the Civil Service of Pakistan; and it was the education, talent and hard work of muhajir like him that put together a Pakistan that slowly but surely became viable. He loved to recount how Jawaharlal Nehru had claimed that Pakistan would last five years.  

67 years later Kursheed Shah calling the word muhajir a slur is so egregious and overwhelming that it shouldn’t be dignified with comment.  

As though Khursheed Shah’s inflammatory statement were not enough, Bilawal’s un-parliamentary attack on Altaf Hussain caused a fall-out of MQM resignations from parliament and provincial assemblies. Zardari, the king of secret pacts, had one going with the MQM as well, and just like the fake PPP condemnations by the PML-N and vice versa, Altaf Hussain would also engage in frothing-at-the mouth lambasting of the PPP, but within all was well. Bilawal’s thunder seems to have changed all that and Zardari will need to go on overdrive to fix this one.  

The end of seventy days of a sit-in by Dr. Tahirul Qadri appears overtly to have been for naught, but it must be acknowledged that in a very short time, Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan have achieved a dramatic change in the mindset of Pakistanis. And this change is what will carry Pakistan. Not just in the removal of the Sharif government but in resetting Pakistan’s compass. In making corruption, self-aggrandizement and usurping others’ rights criminal. And justice, employment, education and a progressive economy a given.  

The Sharifs seemed to be the only ones that calculated the power of Tahirul Qadri accurately. Their high anxiety caused the Model Town massacre and containers all over Lahore. Like many Pakistanis I was deeply skeptical of the “crazy cleric” but with his tenacious sit-in I too realized the vitality of the PAT. How organized and disciplined it is and how it has educated the underserved for decades. It has now transformed from a religious organization into a political party with a very impressive following. The persona of Allama Tahirul Qadri is a notable one. He is schooled in religion as well as constitutional law. On 2 March 2010, Tahirul Qadri issued a 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism in which he said that "Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it”. This is in stark contrast to the various maulanas and moulvis in the JUI and other religious parties who, overtly and covertly, support terrorism and view the US and the yahood-hunood (Jews and Hindus) as enemies, rather than the Al-Qaeda and Taliban that have destroyed Pakistan in so many ways.  

Post the Pakistan Awakening forged by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan, especially with the concepts of economic justice and banishment of corruption, the lifestyle simplicity of Tahirul Qadri must be noted. The royalties of the many books that he has authored go to Minhajul Quran. He does not live extravagantly, tinker with billions, and enjoy gourmet foods, palatial homes or four wives.  He does not banish the females of the PAT behind several partitions; in fact the participation of women in his sit-in is beyond impressive. Pakistan is in desperate need of politicians and governance that has individual and institutional integrity. Much to my own surprise I must say that Tahirul Qadri may well be the one that fits that bill.  

The crowds galvanized by PTI and PAT only grow larger. The aerial view of the rallies is awe-inspiring. And they promise more and more. Novel cases of individual courage are seen in Arjumand Husain and his co-passengers preventing Rehman Malik and Ramesh Kumar from boarding the PIA flight and tolerating the repercussions of employment termination. The movement of the Sharif family is severely curtailed by that annoying “go Nawaz go” chant. The moral pressure of the millions in PAT and PTI rallies could steamroll the Sharifs. But before that something trivial may well become the tipping point. Go zara si baat par could make Nawaz history.