Having lived all my life in Africa I feel I am well placed to write about institutionalized racism and selective application of the law, simply because I have seen it happen up close for so long. Unfortunately for people of European ancestry, what we have long accepted here as the norm, has spread to Europe, the UK, the US and other countries of the West which have predominantly white governments based on Christian values with democratic traditions.
An early event that would open my eyes to much of what was to come, took place on Tuesday May 15th 1973, I was 17 years old, and the product of a law-abiding society where bad behaviour was deemed unacceptable, and criminals were swiftly punished after conviction in a sophisticated legal process that was colour blind. I assumed that was the norm, but I was soon shocked into knowing that was not the case.
On that tragic day, four foreign tourists, Americans John and Carol Crothers, and Canadian girls, Marion Drijber and Christine Sinclair, in swimming costumes, were exploring the gorges below the Victoria Falls when ill-disciplined Zambian soldiers fired without warning on them, killing the two Canadians and wounding Mr. Crother.
When the group failed to return to their hotel that night the alarm was raised, and a rescue team made up of policemen and National Parks personnel responded immediately. At great personal risk, moving at night down sheer cliffs and at risk of being fired upon, they rescued the Crothers and brought them to safety. Later, in the early hours, they recovered Christine’s body. Marion’s was swept away in the torrent. I read this news with sadness, but my real anger was reserved for the international reaction that followed.
The entire world, led by Kurt Waldheim, then Secretary General of the United Nations,(a commissioned officer in the Wermacht associated with war-crimes) seemed quite happy to take their cue from the Zambian government. An official statement said that “it may be that the shooting, if there was any, was done by Zambia’s enemies in order to ruin our cordial relations with the international community.”
This was so preposterous it was followed by another that said that the white‐minority Rhodesian Government must bear direct responsibility for the deaths of the Canadians because it allowed them to enter a high-tension area. “The Rhodesian authorities were not only negligent but also showed a reckless indifference to the safety of these innocent persons,” it said.
It was bewildering, and deeply disappointing for me as teenager to watch this display of monstrous double-standards unfold as the media and the politicians gutted the truth and concluded white Rhodesians were actually guilty of this despicable crime. Unfortunately, it was a harbinger of much worse to come. Some five years later, the Viscount Hunyani, a civilian airliner, was shot down by insurgents from Zambia. Of the 52 passengers and four crew, 38 died in the crash. Gunmen then approached the wreckage, rounded up the ten survivors they could see and murdered them. Three passengers survived by hiding in the surrounding bush, while a further five lived because they had gone to look for water before the guerrillas arrived. Again the world, found no fault with the perpetrators; an accusing finger was pointed at the usual suspects – white Rhodesians, who should take the blame because of their obduracy.
Although the places and circumstances are vastly different, I see the same process unfolding in the United States. In the wake of the media frenzy surrounding the questionable conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who is appealing against a lengthy jail sentence having been found guilty of having caused the death of a drug-crazed, convicted criminal who was violently resisting arrest, we hear little or nothing of the death of Ashli Babbitt.
Babbitt, an air force veteran, and Trump supporter was part of a group that entered Capitol Hill to protest against what they believed was a flawed election that ended Trump’s tenure. She was shot dead by a police officer in the ensuing melee. The response from all the relevant authorities was quick and decisive; the police officer was declared to have acted legally and there would be no further investigation. The police statement read the killing was ‘lawful and within Department policy.’ The authorities also ordered that the officer’s name not be released to the press. This order has been reversed as a result of a court order after an application by the pressure group Judicial Watch: he is Lt. Michael Byrd and happens to be black.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd said in his interview. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”
While the media, President Biden, the Democrats, and many Republicans refuse to countenance any suggestion Byrd might have acted unlawfully the truth is starting to emerge. The lady who died is little over 5’ tall and she was unarmed. A sergeant who witnessed the shooting seems unable to explain why deadly force was used. It also appears unclear as to whether any warning was issued before he opened fire.
I look at this scenario and see troubling similarities with the shooting of the Canadian girls in the gorge. There is no doubt in my mind, if Babbitt had been black and Byrd white, the policeman would have been swiftly jailed and convicted of murder. But just as in Rhodesia in the 70’s, it seems whites in America are bereft of the protection provided to other racial groups. I feel we were right to take a stand that led to war but the odds against us were high. The Americans seem to be suffering this frightening injustice without a fight.
In this brave new 21st Century world, it appears being white means being guilty of crimes against humanity.