In the days of chaos following Mike Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer, Ferguson, Mo. residents and those who traveled from across the country to demonstrate against the injustice intended to make how they felt known not just to America, but to the entire world. None of them knew how long it would take to be heard; they just wanted their message to resound no matter who was listening.
And apparently it worked — stretching as far as the ears of the Kremlin.
We know this because Russian President Vladimir Putin, while discussing matters of foreign policy, the ongoing civil war in Syria, ISIS, and the Ukraine surprised everyone during an interview Sunday on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” by inserting Ferguson into the conversation on the development and growth of global democracy.
“How long did it take the democratic process to develop in the United States,” Putin asked correspondent Charlie Rose. “Do you believe that everything is perfect now from the point of view of democracy in the United States? If everything was perfect there wouldn’t be the problem of Ferguson. There would be no abuse by the police. But our task is to see all these problems and to respond properly.”
His comment was brief, but poignant. Putin could have talked about many world affairs in which human rights were violated ranging from Uighurs in China to Saudi Arabia’s abysmal record of denying rights to women and girls. But instead, perhaps because he knew he would be speaking to an American audience, he brought up Ferguson.
This means that the St. Louis suburb, which wouldn’t exactly be on the tips of the tongues of world leaders, became important because the people there at that moment made it important.
Putin is not the first world leader to speak critically about Ferguson. Last August, just after the initial demonstrations, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA — basically the mouthpiece for leader Kim Jong Un — called the U.S. a “laughingstock” over what happened, saying “The protests in Ferguson City and other parts of the U.S. are an eruption of the pent-up discontent and resistance of the people against racial discrimination and inequality deeply rooted in the American society.”
Granted, the DPRK is really in no position to criticize other nations’ human rights abuses. For them it was probably an opportunity to take a shot at America. In doing so, however, they revealed very real holes in our democracy that are as noticeable as a parade of tanks and soldiers that invade our news screens when the Mike Browns, Eric Garners, Tamir Rices and Sandra Blands of the world fall to injustice.
Russia itself is no stranger to human rights abuses, and therefore cannot point fingers at the United States. Since Putin came back into power in 2012, there has been a list of abuses, not the least of which is the Russian occupation of Crimea. The country’s involvement in Syria and support of president Bashar al-Assad (who has been implicated in war crimes) is something Putin and President Obama sparred over at the United Nations on Monday.
Still, it all comes back to Putin bringing up Ferguson. It would be hard to ask him now why the city came so quickly to mind in the midst of the conversation with Rose just before once again disappearing in a sea of global topics in the interview.
And it still makes us wonder how much discussion was there in the Kremlin about that city, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland and the many other cities where thumbtacks are made on the map of places where African Americans died at the hands of police, but where justice was as elusive for them as the KGB once was for America.
Madison J. Gray is Managing Editor of Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @madisonjgray.