By Kourosh Ziabari
The spike of violent extremism and ensuing complications in relations between the Muslim world and the United States have created serious social, ideological divisions globally, widening the gaps in an already polarized world. At the same time, the politicians whose demagoguery underpins their public appeal have found these splits useful for building up support and consolidating power.
A case in point is the U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has smeared several ethnic groups, including blacks, Mexicans and Latinos and avowedly promised to prevent Muslims from entering the United States. Trump’s racial slurs have unnerved the immigrants, Arab-Americans and blacks, as well as many Americans who believe he is not fit to run for presidency. Recent polls show only 1% of the black Americans said they’d vote for Mr. Trump in the November polls. However, Trump is doing well in many states and even some national polls where he leads his Democratic rival by as much as seven points.
Besides, some recent deadly encounters involving white U.S. police officers and African-American citizens further escalated the racial tensions, and the dormant debate on race relations resurfaced again. On July 5, a 37-year-old black man from Baton Rouge named Alton Sterling was shot dead by two white Baton Rouge Police Department cops after being reported for selling CDs on the street while carrying a firearm. Only one day later, another black man, 32-year-old Philando Castile, was fatally shot by a St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer in a traffic stop.
An African-American pastor says Donald Trump has inflamed racial violence in America, criticizing the Republican Party for not challenging the “virulent hatred” Trump embodies. Rev. Graylan Hagler notes Donald Trump “is appealing to a group of white nationalists that have been searching for a voice that would embody their issues.”
Commenting on the fatal shooting of Sterling and Castile, Father Hagler said the “stereotypes portrayed in the media and other places depict black people on the most negative light possible, and this ignorance and those stereotypes create a dangerous situation when confronted by law enforcement who automatically assume the worst.”
Graylan Hagler is the Senior Pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C. and the chairperson of Faith Strategies. A veteran civil rights activist and preacher, he has spoken out about black and minority rights for so long. In 1980s, he was seriously involved in the international movement against apartheid in South Africa.
Truth NGO arranged an interview with Rev. Graylan Hagler to discuss racial discrimination, race relations and gun violence in the United States.
Q: The recent fatal shooting of two black U.S. citizens in less than 48 hours by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana generated nationwide anger and put the spotlight on race politics in the United States again. Do you believe the cops involved had racial motivations and acted out of a personal vendetta or were the deaths accidents that shouldn’t be viewed in the light of perceived discrimination towards the Afro-Americans?
A: The issue is more complicated than this. I would not affirm a vendetta but there is a pervasive fear that exists in the white community about black people and other people of color. In general, whites are not in contact with black people and this ignorance makes law enforcement and others assume the worst when it comes to blacks and other people of color. The stereotypes portrayed in the media and other places depict black people on the most negative light possible, and this ignorance and those stereotypes create a dangerous situation when confronted by law enforcement who automatically assume the worst. Law enforcement in terms of its personnel largely is an occupying presence in the black community.
Q: Philando Castile was killed by a St. Anthony cop because he was carrying a firearm, which his family said he was licensed to possess. While the Congress Republicans have usually blocked efforts to uphold gun control laws, it usually discomposes the public and authorities to see black people carrying guns, even when they have the permission to do so. What could be the reasons for that?
A: Guns in history were tools used to maintain enslavement and to clear the lands of native populations. Historically, there has existed a fear that we as black people would deliver the hatred and murder visited upon us, but this in general has not been the case. So even to the mind of law enforcement, an armed black man in spite of having a license to carry is perceived as a danger to white civilization. Though Mr. Castile had a license to carry he was shot anyhow!
Q: The 2015 data indicate blacks are three times more likely to be shot dead by the U.S. police officers than white people. 30% of the blacks killed by cops in 2015 were unarmed, compared to 19% of the white victims. Are the law enforcement officials inclined to target black suspects indiscriminately as opposed to the whites?
A: Law enforcement, occupying forces, paramilitary or vigilantes are designed to keep people in the places assigned to them. Law enforcement functions to protect property from possible marauding savages and therefore law enforcement meets the black and brown community with deliberate ferociousness.
Q: Polls show the majority of white Americans believe there’s no serious, remarkable anti-black bias in the country and racial gaps have been significantly narrowed down. This is while the Afro-Americans continue to complain of widespread racism. Why do you think the whites and blacks differ so widely in their views on race relations?
A: White perspective is ignorant of the facts, as [they] have little relationship with the black and brown community and are unable to understand the feelings of people who are not white.
Q: Those concerned about the surge of racism in America argue the nation’s first black commander-in-chief has been unable to lessen anti-black discrimination and specifically curtail the use of lethal violence by police forces against blacks. Just in 2015, some 102 unarmed black citizens were killed by police cops. Do you believe President Obama has failed to address racism effectively during his tenure?
A: The resurgence of overt expressions of racism is not because of the failure of Obama but because of a deep-seated anger on the part of white that recoiled over a black man occupying the White House for the last eight years. This reaction has given rise to Trump.
Q: The campaign for November’s presidential election has produced a great deal of debate on racial inequality and race politics in the United States. Statements made by the Republican nominee Donald Trump about blacks, Latinos, Muslims and other minorities stirred up big controversies and even compelled some media people to compare him to the Nazi leader Adolf Hilter. Are Trump’s views on ethnic and religious minorities what the plurality of Americans and the influential figures of the Republican Party agree with?
A: Trump is appealing to a group of white nationalists that have been searching for a voice that would embody their issues. They have found that voice in Trump. Trump has fanned the flames of racism and racial violence. The Republican Party has brought this kind of virulent hatred embodied by Trump upon themselves by not challenging the most extremist strains that embedded itself in the Tea Party movement. Because the Republicans have tried to negotiate with this most virulent stream instead of condemning it, the Republican Party has now truly become the party of White Nationalism.