Images showing clouds of tear gas, heavily armoured military vehicles and camouflaged policemen training high calibre snipers on a throng of unruly protesters; people can be forgiven for mistaking it for Iraq or Afghanistan. This is Ferguson, in St Louis County, Missouri, where the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer has sparked protests. The police, trying to play soldier, responded with a heavy-handed operation that has led to the situation deteriorating further. While serious questions have been raised about the increasing militarization of police, issues of racial discrimination, always simmering under the surface of the glossy face presented by ‘free’ America, have come to the limelight.

Michael Brown, a black teen, was shot 6 times while he allegedly had his hands up in the air, entreating the officer to not shoot. This protest may be one-off, yet such incidents have become an endemic. Since May 1st of 2013, more than a 1000 people have lost their lives at the hands of the police in the US, many of them beaten to death. There are countless other incidents all following a similar pattern; white police officers brutalizing less affluent minorities and getting away with it. The Cincinnati riots in 2001, the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and the 1970 Jackson State killings are just a few in a long list of racially motivated disturbances.

One of the reasons for this is the huge disparity that exists between the two; law enforcement is made up of mostly white males. In St Louis itself, the police force is 92% white for a 67% black population. The black community that only recently achieved equality in law and institutions, is still viewed with suspicion. The police racially profiles most young blacks as criminals and thugs. It is true that crime is prevalent in the ghettos; yet the police’s approach to arrest first and determine innocence later is fuelling fears that ethnic minorities are viewed as criminals. Furthermore, law enforcement has institutionally protected its own. All complaints are dealt with by an internal departmental investigation before it can be taken to court. The frustration seen in Ferguson is not only about the present act of perceived injustice but also about the larger picture of inequity — economic, educational, judicial — drawn largely along racial lines; as many protesters at the site have quoted.

In the wake of racially motivated police brutality in the UK in 1999, the government sponsored McPherson Report suggested wide ranging reforms to curb the police’s racial bias, which it confirmed existed. The US need to take a leaf out of the UK’s book and deal with the issue head-on, rather than being satisfied in having elected the first black President.