Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: America in Black and White; the Boat Children; Record Review

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: America in Black and White; the Boat Children; Record Review

Article excerpt

One of the most shocking items of recent news has been the bald statistic that the number of people shot by law enforcement officers in the United States last year was 1,136. Not died by gangland shooting, domestic violence or terrorist attack. But killed by those who are meant to be preventing such deaths. Many of them are black or Hispanic. As if on cue, the World Service this week launched a documentary series to find out why this is happening. What are the deep structural issues that give rise to such inequalities of experience and opportunity in the (supposed) Land of the Free?

The first episode of The Compass: America in Black and White on Thursday, presented by Rajini Vaidyanathan (and produced by Giles Edwards), took a deeper look at how the criminal-justice system operates there by talking to people who have experienced its workings in places as far apart as Kansas and New Jersey. In Nicodemus, for example, surrounded by fields of corn, Vaidyanathan met Derek Moore who is a descendant of one of the original settlers of the town, founded in 1877 by freed black slaves (and named after the biblical figure who reminded his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that those appearing in court should be heard before being judged). Moore had been at a party raided by police and ended up in jail awaiting trial on a drugs charge. The case was eventually dropped but only after he had experienced seven months in prison.

Vaidyanathan did find an officer in New Jersey who understood that the police should be seen as 'guardians and protectors' rather than 'warriors and enforcers'. And he explained how a simple change in body language can make all the difference. When an officer 'tells' someone to calm down, they usually gesture towards them with their palms down, he said. Instead the palms should be held upwards, opening yourself up. 'It's more welcoming.'

We were given real insights into the other big story of the New Year in Hashi Mohamed's programme about The Boat Children (Radio 4, Sunday, produced by Tim Mansel). Mohamed himself arrived in the UK as a child migrant, aged nine, sent from Nairobi to make a better life after his father died. He was lucky, he says, because he travelled with his siblings and came by plane, flying in via Paris. The teenagers he met in Italy, at refuges set up by charities such as Save the Children, had usually travelled on their own, with no one to guide them, thousands of miles, across numerous borders, through war zones, hiding on lorries, in leaking boats, walking without food and sometimes water. …

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