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8 Instances Of Police Brutality In The USA That Reveal The Truth Of This ‘Just’ State

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By Karthik Shankar

The recent death of Freddie Gray under mysterious circumstances while in police custody has led to widespread rioting in the city of Baltimore. The protests echo what happened in Ferguson last summer after Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer, and intensified the discourse around the fact that law enforcement in the United States is severely opposed to the disenfranchised and black men in particular.

Too many to count, and still counting, in no particular order, these eight instances of police brutality in the United States tell a different truth about this ‘just’ state.

Police action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. Events of June 16, 2013.

March From Selma To Montgomery (1965)

When Dr. Martin Luther King put his muscle behind a series of marches that pushed for the right to vote for African-Americans, there was fierce opposition from the government and law enforcement. When almost 600 marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a wall of riot police greeted them on the other side. They attacked demonstrators with sticks and engulfed the crowd with tear gas. Amelia Boynton, a prominent civil rights campaigner who helped organise the march, was beaten unconscious. The event called ‘Bloody Sunday’ was popularised through images around the world and became instrumental in President Lyndon B. Johnson pushing forward the Voting Rights Bill.

Bloody Christmas (1951)

In 1951, police officers arrested seven men (five of whom were Hispanic) who were drinking on Christmas Eve, after a scuffle which was based on a wrong tipoff and led to an officer losing an eye. All men were arrested that night. One was taken to a city park where he was beaten so severely he required multiple blood transfusions and endured several fractures. The other six men were taken out of their cells on Christmas and savagely attacked by fifty police officers. The crime was initially ignored by the media but gained traction after activism by the Mexican-American community. Finally, eight officers were indicted, 54 transferred and 39 were suspended for the brutal assaults.

The Shooting Of Michael Brown (2014)

When Officer Darren Wilson shot eighteen-year-old Michael Brown allegedly for charging at him, no one could have predicted the seismic change of events that followed. The town,Ferguson, became a war zone in the weeks that followed with initial peaceful protests giving way to violent confrontations between largely African-American demonstrators and police officers. “Hands up, don’t shoot”, which was initially perceived to be said by Brown to Wilson (although later refuted) became a rallying cry during the movement. Wilson was charged with civil rights violations but was not indicted on any of the counts.

Stonewall Riots (1969)

In the 1960s, homophobia was still rampant. Yet, there were several bars that catered mainly to the LGBT community including establishments like the Stonewall inn. One night the place was raided by the police. The usual clientele of the inn was made up of homosexual men and women, transgender people and even drag queens. The scene quickly became a commotion, and a mob (most of whom were from the LGBT community) gathered outside and yelled ‘gay power’. Riot police arrived but a mob kept arriving every day for the next few days and grew dramatically in numbers. Riot squads were used to disperse the crowds. The increased public awareness of LGBTs led to the formation of the first LGBT groups. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the first gay pride parade took place. It is considered a pivotal moment in the LGBT movement.

Rodney King Arrest (1991)

On March 3, Rodney King was tasered, kicked in the head and brutally beaten by five police officers who claimed he was under the influence of drugs. The event became a media sensation especially because it was captured on camera. No evidence of drugs was found in King’s system and the highly publicised trial led to the acquittal of all four officers charged with assault. Riots started in Los Angeles on the day of the verdict, and over six days, left over 50 dead and 2000 injured. Another notable aspect of the race riots was that Koreans, most of whom owned retail stores, were highly involved in quelling rioters especially since the death of a black teenage girl at the hands of a Korean store owner had led to a rift between the two communities.

The Shooting Of Oscar Grant (2009)

On New Year’s Eve, 22 year old Oscar Grant was detained along with some of his friends at Fruitvale Station for a physical altercation that happened on the train. At the station, Grant was shot by a police officer who insisted he had actually reached out for his taser. The whole confrontation was recorded on several mobile cameras by bystanders. A jury found the officer Johannes Mesherle guilty of involuntary manslaughter but not the more damning offences. Violent protests followed. Eventually, Oscar’s mother and his daughter received a settlement of $2.8 million from the city. A movie based on Grant’s life called ‘Fruitvale Station’ was released in 2013 to great acclaim.

The Death Of Eric Garner (2014)

The Eric Garner case, which followed on the heels of Michael Brown’s shootings made clear the pattern of black men being targeted by police officials. Garner, a small time crook, who had warrants for selling un-taxed cigarettes and marijuana possession, was confronted outside a store by a police officer. When he resisted being handcuffed, the police officer placed him in a choke-hold and then pushed him to the ground. Garner, who had several health issues, kept repeating “I can’t breathe” and became unconscious. He was pronounced dead an hour later. “I can’t breathe” became a popular motto during the 2014 revival of public consciousness over the killings of African-American men.

Occupy Cal At UC Berkeley (2011)

A group of students at UC Berkeley started Occupy Cal, which was allied with the Occupy Wall Street movement that was going on at the same time. Police officers reacted swiftly, and in their effort to remove an encampment, used excessive force on students. A video posted online, which showed a student and professor being dragged on the ground by yanking their hair, created a furor which led to students walking out of classes. The university empathised with students but no officers were charged in the incident.

Social and economic inequalities bleed into the way people are treated by law enforcement. All these incidents are proof that even in a country that is the world’s oldest democracy, abuse of power is rampant. Law enforcement is used by the government to reinforce the social contract but even such authorities should have adequate checks and balances on them.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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