PHUKET: The fatal shot fired by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, was not heard around the world, but the repercussions of slaying an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, were.
The shooting, trial and subsequent similar situation in New York, focused all major American and international media on issues that economically depressed black communities face in the US.
The war of words waged between those wanting to wag their fingers at white police officers and those blaming black youths once again highlighted, among many important issues, the deep-seated distrust that many non-mainstream communities have of the police in America. These prejudices against white officers of the law, justified or not, were planted more than 250 years ago in the Americas.
Being white, middle-class and raised in a non-confrontational family, my personal dealings with police in America have all been benign, just and fair. Yet within a few years of living in Thailand, I have developed a distrust of the police, despite not being subjected to any overwhelming injustices.
As a farang in Phuket, I feel vulnerable. I am a possible target for extortion, due to the preconceived notion by many Thais that due to my skin color I am wealthy, and that my inability to speak Thai makes me an easy mark.
This feeling comes from a plethora of news stories, regular accounts by friends and standard bar talk about the daily effects of corruption on foreigners.
This fear rose to the surface after I lost my bankbook and was forced to report it to the police.
However, as I plodded toward Chalong Police Station, which still has an unresolved case against it for alleged extortion of members of the dive community, I found myself worrying about whether or not I was going to be sitting across from a corrupt officer.
The fear boiled down to my vulnerability, lacking confidence that I could take any direct action against an injustice when all I simply needed was assistance from a police officer. In the end, the officer was swift, honest and got the job done.
However, the very real concerns I had while waiting at the station developed quickly in my mind. When such levels of injustice that have, for more than two centuries, rocked an entire people, giving birth to jazz, rap and countless other cultural innovations, it is difficult to grapple with the depth of the issue that is now being faced in the US.
Changing the way people in the US and in Phuket perceive officers of the law will be slow – slower in the US than here.
It will not come through public relations stunts or court hearings whose legitimacy is questioned, as has been seen in the US. The change will come through the actions of officers and their presence as helpful citizens.
It will come as more stories are shared about “this one nice cop” who helped a woman find her cat, who gave a fair warning instead of hauling a person over the coals, or who opted out of using violence.
— Alex Stone