Laquan the Palestinian

He was brash. Reckless. Audacious. Walking right in front of police officers like he had nothing to fear.  It was lunacy.  His chest out, invincible.  It was a defiance of the highest order. Utterly insane.  How could he have cared about his own life, his own future, doing such things?

It is impossible for me too see the murder of Laquan McDonald through anything other than my Palestinian eyes.  It is impossible for me to see that cop shoot him, an unthreatening young man, sixteen times, mostly while he lay still on the ground, without thinking of the countless Palestinian boys similarly gunned down by Israeli police and civilians alike.  It is impossible for me not to feel the same simultaneous feelings of sadness, anger, disenfranchisement, and a glaring absence of shock.

Of course, some in my Palestinian community (especially here in America) will refuse to see the connection.  They will say we are nothing like them.  They are wrong.  But what is more concerning than their disagreement with me is their animation in doing so.  Why do some Palestinian/Arab/Muslim Americans protest so loudly when the Palestinian struggle is lined up next to that of black America? What underlies that fervor?  The possible answers to those questions scare me deeply.

I know a hundred Palestinian kids like Laquan. His story is our story. Blaming the victim, justifying state murder, and outright lying are things a Palestinian sees from the Israeli government on a daily basis.  People will say about Laquan the same things they say about the young Palestinians who stroll the streets of their own cities.  “What was he thinking? Why didn’t he stop? Doesn’t he care about his life?”

Maybe we should ask those questions.  But the answers don’t lie in some imagined deficiencies about black or Palestinian culture.  They lie in the failings and omissions of the American and Israeli cultures that routinely devalue the lives of those most vulnerable.  Black lives in America are Palestinian lives in Israel: discounted and expendable.  In America, black lives were brought by force and sold as property.  In Israel, Palestinian lives had their property stolen from beneath their feet, being told (still today) that they are somehow “foreign” in their own land. Perhaps the deepest irony is that while blacks in America and Palestinians in Israel are cast by their oppressors as aggressive and menacing, they are the communities that should be receiving constant apologies from the governments that rule over them, not the other way around.

When a 17-year-old black child fearlessly struts in front of Chicago police holding a knife, or when a 16-year-old Palestinian attacks an Israeli soldier, each knowing he faces almost certain death, we must recognize that their actions are not the consequence of genetics, but rather the products of the oppression they live daily.

You still don’t see the parallels?

  • Sixteen shots to stop a boy who was walking away.
  • Integral surveillance video disappearing from a neighboring business after 4 cops went in to review it, with the officers who deleted it held to no account.
  • A police union and fellow officers constantly peddling that Laquan “lunged” at his shooter, when it is quite clear that he did no such thing.
  • His murderer, an officer who possessed a documented history of misconduct, including severe racial prejudice, roaming the streets for a year before his indictment, accompanied by a massive coverup, only stopped in its tracks by a pestering reporter.

(There is, of course, one difference between Palestine and America, as Israel does not go through the trouble of orchestrating a coverup when it kills a person of color.)

These things are not the matter of a bad act or a crooked actor.  They are the result of a system meant to foster these exact results, a system built on occupation, deprivation, coverups, disenfranchisement, and subjugation.  Do I wish Laquan didn’t walk in front his murderer that evening a year ago? Absolutely.  Do I understand his mind that fateful evening? Entirely.  On that night in October 2014, the streets of Chicago were the streets of Israel.

When police, government, and authority constantly show us that our lives of color don’t matter, in whatever land, we defy them, challenging their dehumanization of our existence.  It is quite a bold act, especially in light of the fact that our dissent usually results only in more suffering.  Ultimately, is it that gritty defiance that links Chicago and Jerusalem.  It is that audacity that makes Laquan a Palestinian.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


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