On April 9th, 1948, a leading presidential candidate was murdered in Colombia. Across the South American country, the death of the most progressive candidate caused such an uproar that many cities erupted in flames. In a small town on the northernmost part of the country, however, Liberal mayor Luis Ramirez decided to impose martial law. Even though he had been a great supporter of Gaitan, the murdered candidate, he would not have his people senselessly kill each other.
This story of my grandfather was one of the few shining images I had of my native Colombia. In the following years, over 300,000 people would be murdered, the country would become one of the most backward and conservative in the nation, and things would only get worse. Homophobia and racism would flourish, a disregard for journalists and the media would appear (ask my mom, who was threatened at gunpoint at the paper she worked in), and we learned to fear and hate the military and the police. When I moved in 2000 to Venezuela, I thought I was going somewhere better. However, I was greeted by terrible xenophobia of other foreign nations, an even greater disregard for the news and freedom of speech, and a military that played a large part in ensuring that over 200,000 people have been murdered in the past 15 years. I developed a paranoia living there, fearful that if at any point I left home to do anything, it would be the death of me.
And so, when told we would be moving to the United States, this was to be a turning point. This bastion of progressiveness, of intelligence and civil government. A nation that had not, in over 200 years, had a coup d’etat or a crisis like that of Colombia. A nation that built a museum to the fourth estate, while back home it was derided. A nation where the police and the military were lauded and praised, not feared or hated. A nation that had elected its first African-American president. This was the Promised Land, dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Ferguson, Missouri, seems to be turning my world upside down.
After a string of other incidents that I turned my head away from, this one finally opened my eyes to the happenings here in the U.S.. A country where African Americans are guilty until proven innocent. A country where journalists are attacked by police as if reporting injustice was a crime to be covered up. A country where the police is leading a charge, dressed for an invasion of a foreign and hostile nation, called… Ferguson, Missouri.
In Latin America, the government and military at least have the decency to allow the mourning mothers who have not seen their children for over twenty years to mourn and challenge the government every day. Here, a quasi-SWAT team has to show up to a vigil.
How am I supposed to rest knowing that in “the greatest nation on Earth” people are being murdered – again – just because of their race? How can I relax knowing that those who bring us the news are being treated like we hear of in Egypt, or in Venezuela? How am I supposed to feel safe knowing that, there are people out there who are citizens of this nation, protected by its Constitution, who speak English as a first language and adhere to the rules of this land… who have no protection whatsoever?
The term power-state is too extreme – the closest thing I lived under was an oligarchy – but U.S., you are losing this PR battle. You tout yourself as an advanced and civil nation. You tout yourself as being progressive with the rights of your people. You tout yourself as the ultimate arbiter of good in this world. But how are we supposed to believe this when you kill your own citizens because of systemic racism, when you shut down those who report the news that make you transparent, when you let those who are sworn to protect your own rein free and do anything but protect?
U.S., I, alongside millions of others, am calling you out on your bullshit. You were the Promised Land to me, for a while. Wake up, and work towards making this country what it should be, and not what it is.
Image Credit: Scott Olson, Getty Images