An explosive mixture of inequality and arms in the US

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

There were already plenty of problems in Europe and America prior to the recent surge in racial violence in the United States.

In Europe there has been the rise of mass migration and an increasing terrorist threat. There has also been a rise in fringe politics from Front National in France to Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The EU has had ongoing eurozone difficulties and last month was convulsed by Brexit.

On both sides of the Atlantic the economic recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 and afterwards remains fragile.

In America there has been stasis in Congress, and the rise also of fringe candidates to become serious contenders for the White House, with Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party and Donald Trump in the Republican Party.

Suddenly though America has been plunged into something that has the alarming potential to slide into a race war.

Three Baton Rouge police officers have been shot dead, within days of the deliberate killing of five police officers in Texas – a surge of violence that followed two police shootings of black men in different cities.

This is an appalling sequence of events. America has a far higher per capita homicide rate than any European nation due to the Second Amendment that protects the right to bear arms, but even so the targeted killing of police officers is rare.

At the same time, black people in America are significantly poorer on average than white people, an inequality that dates back 400 years to the arrival of slaves. These two facts have come together in an explosive combination.

Europe has enough problems of its own to deal with and cannot solve America’s. We can only hope that the sense that black people have a stake in the US – a process that was greatly boosted by the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 – will continue to strengthen over time.

And in the meantime that the appeals by leaders such as him to stop the killings will have an impact.