It’s been heavily implied that Otto Warmbier was killed by North Korea for stealing a sign. Comments about how barbaric and cruel North Korea is have flooded social media; condemnations about how a man shouldn’t have been given a death sentence for stealing and how regimes like North Korea go against U.S. values are in huge supply. While what happened to Warmbier was a terrible tragedy, I can’t help but notice the hypocritical tone and rhetoric surrounding his treatment and death.
Americans across the country took to social media in a rage and denounced North Korea after Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for trying to steal a propaganda sign, was flown home in a coma and died six days later.
The outrage towards the North Korean regime was swift, including statements from President Trump who called Warmbier’s treatment by North Korea a “total disgrace,” and condemned “the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
The problem with these statements is that what North Korea allegedly did does not, in fact, go against U.S. values. It fits right in with the violence and state-sanctioned murder that happens every day to Black and brown people.
I find it ironic, but unfortunately expected, that the same people condemning what happened to Warmbier go silent when Black people are executed in the streets by police officers for the same petty crimes, or for no crime at all. These people are now attempting to make Warmbier a symbol against the exact same brutality that the U.S. implements against it’s own citizens daily.
Kayleigh McEnany, an avid Trump supporter, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill, “To compare the United States of America – the beacon of the free world – to the brutal North Korean dictatorship is as insulting as it is asinine … Whether Black or white, we are all Americans, and we should stand united against the horrid and tragic loss of one of our brothers. Anything less is simply not the American way.”
While McEnany’s take is certainly popular, it’s also hypocritical as she has a history of denouncing protests against police shootings as “a rush to judgment.” Asinine, it is not, to see an obvious correlation between these events. It also seems McEnany doesn’t mind a rush to judgment against North Korea when a white American dies.
And therein lies the rub.
A jury just acquitted the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile seven times within 40 seconds of pulling him over. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Eric Garner to death on video using an illegal chokehold, did not even face charges in his death. The officers who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice within four seconds for playing with a toy gun in a park, also faced no charges.
All of these U.S. citizens, and hundreds more, were given death sentences for simply sitting in their car, standing on a sidewalk and playing in a park. All of them had their deaths justified by police and media personalities alike with reasons like “The kid shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun,” and “he shouldn’t have been selling loose cigarettes to avoid taxes.”
There is a long list and plenty of evidence to show how Black victims of state violence are treated in this country with zero empathy from white Americans across all political ideologies. Now that the victim is a white male and the perpetrator is North Korea, the U.S. suddenly feels justified in claiming some moral high ground.
The truth is that what happened to Otto Warmbier happens every single day to Black people right here in the U.S. While Warmbier inspires articles condemning his “State Sanctioned Death,” the deaths of Black people from state-sanctioned violence in the U.S. inspire articles claiming that protesters are wrong and that police are using force appropriately.
Until the U.S. is ready to admit that it sanctions death against its own citizens daily, and finally makes substantial moves to end and atone for its own bloody, genocidal history of violence and oppression, we have no right to demand retribution for state-sanctioned violence by other countries. In this instance, the U.S. and North Korea are two sides of the same violent, oppressive coin.