A demonstrator runs for cover in Ferguson, Missouri as police fire tear gas. Photo: Getty
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Too many in the US view the events that led to Michael Brown’s death as the consequence of his own behaviour

A core American cultural value that gives priority to property rights over human rights informs the indifference towards the lives of especially young black men and women.

The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time … I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

Statement by US president Barack Obama on the passing of Michael Brown, 12 August, 2014.

Many Americans share president Barack Obama’s sentiment regarding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This is clearly indicated in the deeply felt hurt experienced by so many and the massive swell of moral support people of all backgrounds offered to the young man’s parents in recent days.

But to suggest that all, or even most, Americans feel the same would be severely misleading. Some citizens, drawing on media-fed imagery and timeworn stereotypes of young black men, have gone so far as to suggest that the unarmed teenager’s tragic death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer was self-inflicted, of his own doing, deserved and the result of his defiance of state authority.

A young man with a promising future notwithstanding, too many in the United States view the disputed events that led to Brown’s death as the reasonable, albeit unfortunate, consequence of his errant behaviour.

These views are not necessarily based on ignorance or even racial animus. However, it must be made clear, these features remain entrenched themes of contemporary American culture and life. The devaluing of Brown’s life is informed by a form of marginalisation that refers to the condition of those whom the broader society chronically excludes from economic networks and networks of care – or what American legal scholar Richard Delgado describes as being “beyond love”.

Missouri in general and the St Louis metropolitan area in particular has a long history of this kind of exclusion. A New York Times editorial on Brown’s death, for instance, describes “the history of racial segregation, economic inequality and overbearing law enforcement that produced so much of the tension now evident on the streets” of Ferguson, a suburban town of 21,000 people. The editorial goes on to note that:

until the late 1940s, blacks weren’t allowed to live in most suburban St Louis County towns.

Property over life

In addition, a core American cultural value that gives priority to property rights over human rights informs such indifference towards the lives of especially young black men and women. This is evident in the almost immediate media shift from the focus on what some regard as the state-sanctioned murder of Brown, whose lifeless body was left exposed, lying on the open boulevard for over four hours, to an over-emphasis on the loss of property in Ferguson in the aftermath of his death.

In this instance, the importance of property is evident in the roll-out of body-armoured police, the deployment of tanks and police cars to barricade citizens, and the wanton firing of tear gas and rubber bullets into peaceful crowds.

In effect, these domestic military manoeuvres in an overwhelmingly black neighbourhood were in no way intended to protect the lives of its residents but rather its property.

Even Obama’s words betray this sentiment. His reference to “strong passions” and emphases on “reflection and understanding” and on talk “that heals, not in ways that wound” is in tacit reference to the days of unrest that followed Brown’s death. But these wounds and so-called violence in response to Brown’s death were directed at the economic institutions and patterns of oppression and racial violence that figure so prominently in the marginalisation of many of Ferguson’s residents.

The violence that the authorities would be prudent to attend to are the very structural forces that oppress the youth who have responded en masse to the senseless death of one of their own. For sure, there are many older adults, sincere, concerned and operating in good faith, who have joined them.

The waning generations too must partner with their daughters and sons in transforming the conditions under which America continues to bury its young.

The ConversationGarrett Albert Duncan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Garrett Albert Duncan is Associate Professor of Education and of African & African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St Louis.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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