WASHINGTON, December 4, 2014 — On November 24, thousands of people took to the streets across the United States to protest police brutality against vulnerable communities. The protests erupted in the wake of a St. Louis County grand jury decision to not prosecute Darren Wilson, the Ferguson Police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager. Protesters have held signs saying “Justice for Mike Brown”, “No Justice no peace”, and “hands up don’t shoot”.
Only three weeks earlier, thousands of people took to the streets in Manama, Bahrain and in other cities throughout the island to commemorate the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein ibn Ali was killed in Karbala, Iraq for his opposition to the rule of the Umayyad Empire. Ashura, this day of commemoration, is an important day in Shia Islam and a reminder of the need to stand up for justice. Protesters held up signs saying “Democracy is our demand”, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death”, and “We are people of Peace”.
There are striking similarities between the two groups.
Longstanding Injustice: Both the African American community in the U.S. and the Shia community in Bahrain have been striving for equal treatment under the law for a long time. African Americans have been engaged in numerous pushes for equality such at the Abolition Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. This latest push by African Americans is an effort to curb racial profiling, police brutality,and economic inequality. Currently African Americans are disproportionately targeted by police in routine traffic stops and arrests. Moreover, there are numerous reports of unlawful, brutal treatment by officers when they stop African Americans. This latest round of activism in Bahrain has been focused on increased representation in the government, as well as greater access to government services.
Heavy handed response: In both cases, there have been militarized responses to protests. Tear gas and smoke bombs have been used frequently by security forces to disperse protesters. In Bahrain, Yousef Baddah lost one of his eyes after being shot in the face by security forces. In 2011, Ali, a teenage boy, was run over by a police car during demonstrations. The latest incident of heavy handed tactics came on Monday when Maryam al-Khawaja, human rights activist and co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, was jailed in absentia for one year from an alleged incident stemming from this past September as she returned to the country to visit her father who is in jail. In the U.S., Amnesty International documented a number of abuses by law enforcement in Ferguson such as the unlawful arrest of journalists, the imposition of curfews, and the restrictions on peaceful assembly.
Resilience: Lastly both groups have been engaged in the struggle for greater justice and greater participation for a long time and they are planning to continue for as long as it takes.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals”. These are not issues that will be solved overnight, but commitment of thousands across the globe will allow for the realization of these goals one day.