Bangladeshi youth gunned down in the US: Lawmakers or lawbreakers?

The rising trend of police brutality in several states presents an alarming situation in the US. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

A young man from an expatriate Bangladeshi community in the US was gunned down by police in Massachusetts on Wednesday. The victim is 20-year-old Arif Sayed Faisal, a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Condemning the "brutal killing," the local Bangladesh Association organised protests outside Cambridge City Hall. They described the death of Faisal, the only child of his family, as a racist incident carried out by white police officers. This is a clear sign of an extrajudicial killing as no evidence has yet been shown to indicate otherwise. For this, US' escalating prejudice against ethnic minorities, particularly those of Asian heritage, is concerning.

When it comes to promoting democracy and human rights across the globe, the United States of America (US) shows up faster than anyone. But the same country displays utter negligence towards its multicultural society. The rising trend of police brutality in several states presents an alarming situation in the US.

It is important to note that the US has been witnessing a surge in gun violence in recent years. Again, gun-related violence threatens our most fundamental human right, the right to life. It is a daily tragedy affecting the lives of individuals around the world. It is not only having lasting impacts on victims and their families, but is also deteriorating the overall human rights situation globally.

Numerous figures demonstrate the disturbing rise in gun-related violence, including extrajudicial executions and hate crimes, as well as the systemic violation of human rights. Police violence is becoming a daily problem for US society, and the government seems to be failing to enact efficient policies or take effective steps to hold the perpetrators accountable. A culture of impunity is equally prevalent in the case of extrajudicial executions. The seeming guardian of global human rights appears to be struggling lately at home.

The claim that Faisal was carrying a large knife has been denied by his family. According to media reports, they were given no videos showing Faisal carrying a sharp weapon. His family also demanded a fair probe of the incident and punishment of the police officer who opened fire on Faisal.

Following this, some concerned Bangladeshis organised a human chain in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka. Meanwhile, referring to the killing, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Friday said Bangladesh does not want any hate crimes anywhere in the world. "We want to stop racism, and communal violence and establish peace in the world," he added. 

Police killings of unarmed people have drawn significant attention in recent years and spurred mass protests. Fatal police shootings remain a persistent and contentious issue in the US, prompting protests and ongoing calls for serious reforms to policing. There are numerous examples of extrajudicial killings in the US and Canada, which are known as countries of advanced human rights. While focusing much on data, statistics, and ranking, we often forget the tragic stories behind each number. Each life matters and everyone has a different story.

A report published by The Washington Post on February 12, 2019, stated that the number of people killed in police shootings in the US yearly has been close to 1,000 for four consecutive years. According to the report, 996 people were killed in police firing in 2018 while the number was 987 in 2017, 963 in 2016, and 995 in 2015. In 2020, there were 996 extrajudicial killings in the US. Police shootings also contributed to 96 percent of homicides. Of the deceased, 27 percent were African-Americans, although they constitute 13 percent of the total population. According to the Human Rights Report, no action has been taken against the police in 98.8 percent of the cases. The irony here is that the US brought charges against Bangladesh and others over human rights violations.

Among wealthier and developed countries, the US is an outlier when it comes to gun violence. It seems the US government has allowed gun violence to become a human rights crisis. Widespread access to firearms and loose regulations lead to more than 39,000 men, women, and children being killed by guns each year in the US. Due to this culture, the US has topped the list of civilian gun-owners. It now has 120 guns per 100 people, a number even higher than Yemen, a country currently in one of the worst civil wars of recent times. 

The US must maximise the protection of human rights, creating the safest possible environment for people, especially those considered to be at the greatest risk. If a state does not enact adequate laws in the face of persistent gun violence, it could amount to a breach of its obligations under international human rights law. It is yet to make a progressive decision regarding stricter laws. So, the US should focus on its domestic condition while promoting the very same sentiments in its human rights and foreign policies.

To be the "lawmakers" of human rights, the US must address its own violations, duality, and the "immoral" aspects of its policies.

Apart from international laws and norms, extrajudicial killings are also acts of violations of basic human rights. Against the backdrop of the recent killing of the Bangladeshi student in the US, it is right to say that the country should now take a good look at itself. It is high time the US realises whether they are enforcing laws or violating them. 

Erina Haque is a human rights activist, refugee affairs researcher, and freelance columnist.


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