POLITICS

From Russia, with love: Putin government voices concern for U.S. protesters

12/05/2014 02:48 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST
WASHINGTON - The police-brutality marches in dozens of U.S. cities are echoing far beyond the Brooklyn Bridge, the square outside the White House and the streets of Ferguson.

They're also resonating at the Kremlin.

Some of the world's more authoritarian governments aren't bothering to conceal their glee over the unrest related to police violence in the U.S., suggesting it proves America has no business lecturing them on human rights.

The Russian government has issued different statements these last few days that mimic the language employed by the West during last year's protests in Ukraine.

"With great concern we are following the tense situation in Ferguson, Missouri," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement last week.

"Such a massive explosion of popular indignation and the disproportionate reaction of law enforcement agencies reaffirm the fact that the issue does not concern an isolated incident, but systemic flaws of American democracy...

"Despite the disingenuous concern about the rights of dissenters in other countries to freely express their views, the US authorities treat protests at home mostly as 'wrongful acts' and 'illegal assemblies' and use force to disperse them."

Russian media have been all over the story. One website has dubbed the protests "Afromaidan" — a play on the name of anti-Moscow protests in Kyiv. As protests grew, police in Phoenix shot an unarmed drug suspect, mistaking a pill bottle in his pocket for a possible gun — a development Radio Vesti reported Friday in an online piece headlined, Independence American-style: How to Suppress Protests.

The Chinese coverage has been extensive, but more subdued. Two stories on the state-run Xinhua site led with basic details of the protests, then drew broader societal conclusions.

"Some analysts said police brutality is just one symptom of a wider range of structural racism in the United States," said a piece translated from Mandarin.

"This structural racism — divided cities, deeper poverty and unemployment among minority ethnic groups — reduce the life expectancy of U.S. residents. Although African-Americans bear the brunt of vulnerable groups, such discrimination also affects Latinos, Asians, ethnic Arabs and others."

President Barack Obama has addressed this type of criticism.

Obama dedicated part of his United Nations General Assembly speech to Ferguson, a move that earned him scathing criticism at home from opponents like Dick Cheney.

But that speech sought to reframe recent events — as an argument for American governance, not against it.

Obama's basic message to foreign critics: bring it on.

"We welcome the scrutiny of the world," Obama told the UN assembly hall. "Because we fight for our ideals, and we are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable."

In response to the furor over police-related deaths, the U.S. government has launched civil-rights investigations in Ferguson and New York. It has announced federal monitoring of the police department in Cleveland, following a report that it routinely used excessive force.

Obama has also proposed spending $75 million on body cameras for police.

Some questioned whether more body cameras would make any difference. The fact that a video existed of Eric Garner's death and there was no indictment this week prompted many to quickly conclude that it wouldn't.

But the reaction to the Garner case has veered in a wildly different direction this week, compared to what happened in Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown.

Even some politicians and commentators on the right who steadfastly defended the police in Ferguson have expressed horror with the grand jury decision in the Garner death. Conservative pundits like Charles Krauthammer and Bill O'Reilly have specifically cited the influence of the video footage.

The protests have grown. Although they've disrupted traffic in different cities, they've remained mostly peaceful. And Garner's family has proudly pointed out another characteristic of these protests: It's not only black people in the streets.

"This is not a black and white issue," his daughter, Erica Garner, told CNN.

"I believe this is a crisis. I mean, for white people to come out and show how deeply they were hurt, and like Asians and different people from different nations and different parts of the world to come out and show that they felt the same way I felt (watching) that video — I greatly appreciate it."