Just as we believe things are going to get better, they get worse, shadow of Covid hangs over everything
Writing week after week about Coronavirus becomes a drag. There are plenty of issues out there, but the terrifying shadow of the pandemic hangs over everything else. Just as we believe things are going to get better, they get worse. Even so, there are long-standing issues that cry out for attention because of the damage they cause to their respective societies.
Gun-related violence in the US is one such issue. On the one hand, there is a gun-control debate. Every time a deranged gunman mows down men, women and children in a shopping mall, church, school or park, the protests start and the debate becomes heated. Then it’s put on hold till the next massacre.
According to the Violence Project, which maintains a database of shootings that caused four or more fatalities, there have been dozens of mass shootings in the US in the last five years. On a per-capita basis, this is a much higher rate of gun-related violence than any other country in the world (leaving out civil wars).
There were 14,400 gun-related homicides in 2019. Nearly 75% of all homicides were caused by a gun. Figures from the US centres for Disease Control and Prevention show that, out of 38,300 gun-related deaths in 2019, some 23,900 were suicides. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 showed there was a direct relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in the country and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.
This is only part of the picture. The way the US Police forces use firearms is the other.
They seem to work on a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ principle. If one looks at the number of people shot dead by American Policemen over the past years, (Other than those involved in robberies and other crimes), only a few, if any, were carrying firearms. That many of the victims were black indicates another side to the problem.
In fact, the majority of shooters on record from 1982 to April 2021 were white. There were 123 mass shootings between this period, and 66 were caused by whites. Blacks caused 21, Latinos 10, which works out as 53%, 17% and 8% respectively.
The latest incident took place in Columbus, Ohio, last week when Police shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American girl. They were responding to a call that she was “attacking somebody with a knife.”
"As Sri Lanka depends on imports from India for a number of crucial sectors, including transport, this will have negative implications for us"
Apparently, though the girl’s intended victim was unhurt when the Police arrived, and the girl wielding the knife did not attempt to attack the Police with her weapon, one officer shot her fatally.
This happened moments before the verdict was delivered on Derek Chauvin, the white Police officer accused of causing the death of African-American George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. He was found guilty of manslaughter. It was hailed as a landmark verdict, but celebrations across the US were marred by news of the Columbus, Ohio, shooting.
The verdict is a landmark because police-related fatalities rarely become criminal trials. When they do, prosecutors face a very tough prospect because law enforcement officials in the US have a good deal of legal protection, ranging from ambiguous legal definitions over the proportionate use of force and powerful police union agreements.
The Derek Chauvin trial may go a long way to change that, but the overall picture remains grim.
On the whole, the US Police seem to target African Americans, who on their part seem to be unanimous on one thing – that it’s hard to get justice if you are black.
In some cases, Police reactions concerning African Americans seem to border on paranoia. In one case, a white woman Police officer shot and killed her black neighbour who was sitting inside his apartment watching TV. In another, the Police answering an emergency call shot and injured an off duty black police officer, who came running to help.
The Joe Biden administration, grappling with the chaos left behind by former President Donald Trump, will need to look into both these issues – gun-related violence as well as Police prejudices and paranoia towards African Americans once it has the pandemic still raging across the country under control.
It would have been nice to leave the pandemic out of this article, but its sudden eruption both here and India when things finally seemed to be under control makes it hard to ignore. In India, record numbers of new cases are found almost daily, and Sri Lanka seems to be on the verge of a third wave. Even if the situation here doesn’t become quite as bad in India, the prospects of this new outbreak are bleak for both countries.
Internationally, Europe, the USA and Africa are still a long way away from recovery, despite massive vaccination programmes underway in the first two continents at least. Latin America too, is being ravaged by a new, stronger variant of Covid-19. The virus is still a leap ahead of medical research and science.
India has recorded more than 15m cases of Covid-19 so far, second only to the US, and has the fourth-highest death toll at more than 180,000.
A new variant of Covid-19 in India seems to be behind the new surge in cases. The variant is known as B.1.617 and has two spike proteins rather than one. This so-called “double mutant” variant is believed to be more transmissible than previous strains.
Last year, the Narendra Modi Government declared lockdown within 24 hours when the pandemic began to make itself felt in Indian cities. This move, parallel to what happened here, was called brutal, but it kept the lid down on the Covid-19 volcano.
But now the government is being criticised for easing the restrictions too quickly. Just like here, the behaviour of politicians at public gatherings seems to have lulled the public into a false sense of security, and Modi is being criticised for holding rallies without proper social distancing.
Also, Hindu festivals such as the massive Kumbh Mela have been given the green light. Twenty-five million have participated in Kumbh Mela since January, with scant attention paid to health guidelines.
India launched a massive vaccination program, with more than 100 million doses delivered so far, but the country has been hampered by a lack of supply. The government said last week it had fewer than 27 million doses left, enough to last about nine days. India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines and is now expected to divert some of the output for domestic use, which means that vaccination programmes in other parts of the world will be hampered.
All this could mean very hard times ahead for both India and Sri Lanka economically. According to the World Bank, India’s growth for 2021 has so far been the lowest since the economic liberalization in the 1990s. According to some sources, India could be heading into its worst recession since independence.
Sharp rise in unemployment, stress on supply chains, loss of state revenue, the collapse of tourism and hospitality industries, massive increases in healthcare spending – all this has hit the Indian economy hard. In 2019, India overtook the UK to become the fifth-largest economy in the world but has fallen to sixth place since.
As Sri Lanka depends on imports from India for a number of crucial sectors, including transport, this will have negative implications for us. In both countries, it will be those in the poor, lower and middle-income brackets who will be hit hardest, and neither country has effective social security programmes to help the unemployed and the destitute.