BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
In Ferguson, Missouri, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” has become indignant citizens’ slogan.
Four decades ago in Florida, Argentina (or other countries participating in Operation Condor), “I’m just protesting, don’t ‘disappear’ me” might have become the slogan if those victims knew what was coming.
In pre-Genocide days, the Armenians of Frnuz might have pleaded “Don’t rape my wife, kidnap my son, or steal my livestock” had they dared speak up to Turkish brutality.
What do these three situations in three different “F” towns at three different times in history have in common?
They represent official state actions directed at citizens/subjects of that same state that were “legal” yet self-evidently wrong and inimical to the basic human rights of those people. We, as humans are imbued with a sense of right and wrong. Consequently, we can see past official rules/laws and change those rules over time to fit our innate sense of justness. The American Declaration of Independence affirms this in the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident” and that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed” and
“it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it” when it becomes “destructive” of “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” with which “all men… are endowed” (obviously, I’ve changed the order of the phrases to weave together the concepts in a relevant way).
I have a sense that we, as Armenians, whose arrival in the Americas occurred overwhelmingly post-Genocide, and in majority post-Civil Rights-movement era (1950s-1970s), may be lacking a trans-generational, personal/familial, appreciation of what is driving the events in Ferguson.
Rodney King— beaten in LA; Abner Louima— sodomized with a broomstick in NY; Amadou Diallo— killed by 19 of 41 bullets fired at him in NY; Aida Guzman— struck in the face in Philadelphia; Trayvon Martin— killed in Sanford, Florida; Flint Farmer— killed in Chicago; DWB— driving while black/brown, the documented proclivity of police to pull over black and brown drivers at higher rates than whites; all but one of these crimes were perpetrated by police. “A  study by University of Chicago professor Craig Futterman found that just 19 of 10,149 complaints accusing CPD [Chicago Police Department] officers of excessive force, illegal searches, racial abuse, sexual abuse, and false arrests led to a police suspension of a week or more;”
And now, after all the above examples and many more, plus, undoubtedly, all the instances the public never learns about, we have Michael Brown killed by six bullets, two to the head, in Ferguson, Missouri. Who would tolerate such indignity, such brutality, such much needless death? And, for how long can the victims and their families be expected to remain quiescent?
Most people’s natural, understandable, bias is that the victims of police were doing something wrong. Yet, that turns out not to be true in many cases. And, even if it is true that the victim had committed some offense, minor or major, is that a reason for one person, in the heat of the moment, to carry out a death sentence on a citizen who has not had the benefit of going through the due process provided by the law?
Why did we, Armenians, start struggling against the Ottoman Empire’s unjust system? Why did Costa Gavras’ film “Missing” (about an American journalist who was disappeared under Augusto Pinochet’s Chilean dictatorship) garner so much acclaim? Why are we surprised and don’t understand the righteous rage felt by those demonstrating in Ferguson? (Please don’t cite the small number of violent agitators as an excuse for the repression brought to bear by the state; given history, they might even be planted by the authorities to cause trouble, thus providing cover for official over-reaction).
I hope this extremely brief review of parallels engenders more empathy within our community for those suffering injustice at the hands of those who are supposed to protect citizens.