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Hands Up: Indian-American artist generates empathy for US police gunbattles victims

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"Hands Up," an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encountr killings of minorities in the United Sttes. Credit: Humai Mustafa
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"Hands Up," an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encountr killings of minorities in the United Sttes. Credit: Humai Mustafa
“Hands Up,” an interactive digital video project by Roopa Vasudevan and Atif Ateeq in New York sparks discussion of encounter killings of minorities in the United States.
Credit: Humai Mustafa

New York: An Indian-American digital artist and educator has produced an interactive multimedia installation to explore the problem of killings in police gunbattles in the US. according to a media estimate these gunbattles result in at least two deaths every day.

The “Hands Up” digital exhibit is about “generating empathy”, said Roopa Vasudevan, who created it with fellow Pakistani American artist Atif Ateeq.

“Obviously, there is no way to fully understand what a confrontation like this is, unless it happens to you,” Vasudevan said. “We hoped to allow our visitors to get a degree of understanding of how charged and emotional the situation actually is.”

“Hands Up” simulates the high-adrenaline gunbattle situation in a cacophony of shouts, commands and sirens in a dark scenario ripped by sudden flashes of blue, white and red police car beacons, invoking a sense of dread and foreboding.

As the intimidating voice of the law orders “Hands up,” and a visitor responds, bursts of light simulate gunfire and sounds of explosion ricochet. The viewers are plunged into the virtual reality of split second decisions that become the arbiters of death and life.

It was on display recently at Flux Factory, a community of artists in the city’s Queens borough, an area that is home to a large number of Indians and South Asians.

Asked if she saw police brutality as an issue for Asians and Indians in the US, Vasudevan said: “Absolutely.”

“This is an issue of an imbalance of power,” she explained. “Obviously, most of the focus in the media recently has been on interactions with African American men, but it’s worth noting that this speaks to a larger story of how minorities are looked at and treated in this country.”

In February a visitor from India, Sureshbhai Patel, was left partially paralysed after being roughed up by police in Alabama, although he was not shot.

Last February, an Indian American who had served in the US Army in Iraq returned home to California only to be shot dead by police. Police claimed that Parminder Singh Shergill had charged at them with a knife, but eyewitnesses asserted that he was unarmed.

The Washington Post reported recently that its analysis found that 385 people have been killed in police shootings so far this year.

A disproportionate number of those killed were minorities. Among the unarmed victims, two-thirds were African Americans or Latinos, the newspaper said. When adjusted for proportions in the population in the areas of shootings, African Americans were three times as likely to be killed as other ethnic or racial groups, its analysis found.

Vasudevan said that after grand juries refused last year to indict the white police officers involved in two separate incidents – the choking death of an unarmed man, Eric Garner in New York, and shooting death of a teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – she and Ateeq wanted to see “how we could productively contribute to the conversation and movement for change.”

“As artists, both of us strongly felt that generating empathy for someone placed in the situation of being confronted by the police was key to the path to understanding, and that the best way to do that was by creating a large, immersive art piece,” she said.

Facing mounting criticism over police conduct, Pat Lynch, the head of the New York City police union, denounced the exhibit, saying “it perpetuates a falsehood about police officers and their use of force”.

The atmosphere of chaos and tension created in the exhibit, however, also illustrate the conditions that police operate under.

Vasudevan, denying it was anti-police, said: “It’s not such a cut and dry thing, so-and-so was right and so-and-so was wrong. There’s a lot happening in the moment. It’s our hope that our work can add to the discussion of what can be done to change things.”

Vasudevan has been a director for MTV’s Emmy award-winning series, “True Life,” and her digital work has been featured by the American Museum of Natural History, National 9/11 Museum, and The New York Times. She also teaches at Fordham and New York universities.

Asked about artists of Indian and Pakistani descent working together, she said: “The piece was more about being a minority in the United States than anything else. We didn’t necessarily keep the specifics of our backgrounds in mind when collaborating.” (IANS)

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Refugees’ Entitled To Claim The Right To Asylum in The U.S: U.N.

We believe governments have the right to defend their borders and should do so responsibly.

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Refugees, Migrants, Asylum seekers, Trump
Honduran migrant Genesis Belen Mejia Flores, 7, waves an American flag at U.S. border control helicopters flying overhead near the Benito Juarez Sports Center serving as a temporary shelter for Central American migrants, in Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

Asylum seekers at the Mexican border fleeing violence or persecution are entitled to lodge claims in the United States to obtain sanctuary there, U.N.
agencies said in a fresh attempt to shield migrants from tough U.S. immigration policies.

U.N. officials have repeatedly urged Washington to ensure asylum seekers are protected, but U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that Mexico should send migrants seeking asylum in the United States back to their home countries.

U.S. authorities fired tear gas canisters toward migrants in Mexico — near the border crossing separating Tijuana from San Diego, Calif. — on Sunday when some rushed through border fencing into the United States. Mexico’s foreign ministry presented a diplomatic note to the U.S. government on Monday calling for a “full investigation.”

Refugees, Migrants, Asylum seekers
Men line up for dinner outside a shelter housing members of the migrant caravan, in Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

After Trump signed an order limiting asylum rights earlier this month, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the United States must make sure anyone fleeing violence or persecution can get protection “without obstruction.”

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, asked on Tuesday about U.S. forces firing tear gas at migrants, told a Geneva news briefing: “We are following those reports with concern. We are still trying to understand what transpired there.”

Border management is “a sovereign prerogative of national governments,” but border security and international protection for refugees are not mutually exclusive, he said.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence,asylum
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

“It means that any person whose life is at risk in their country of origin must be able to access territory and request asylum in a safe country. And each asylum request should be considered individually.

“We have been repeating our call on the U.S. authorities to grant access to the territory and to asylum procedure to those who are fleeing persecution and violence,” he said.

Sunday’s incident was the latest chapter in a saga that has pitted Trump’s hard-line immigration policies against thousands of migrants who have made their way north through Mexico from violent and impoverished Central American countries.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence,asylum
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

About 3,500 migrants from the caravans have applied for asylum in Mexico, Baloch said. Seven migrants have died in incidents along the way, Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration said.

Also Read: Refugee Communities Can Be Built By Tech Industries

“We believe governments have the right to defend their borders and should do so responsibly,” he said. “We also think migrants certainly should have the expectation that there be an access that is legal and safe for them to at least seek to cross
a border.” (VOA)