Otto Warmbier, the amerikan student who was arrested for having stolen a poster while visiting North Korea, has become the subject of great (and hypocritical) debate. First, it must be noted that at the time of this article’s publication, there is yet no evidence to suggest that Otto Warmbier has been violently mistreated, or that he was murdered at the hands of his captors. The media narrative has shifted quite dramatically on this several times, as new facts are presented in the disjointed and unorganized manner that usually accompanies hysterical media hatchet-jobs like this one.. The cause of death was originally thought to be food poisoning, now it is believed to be related to a heart attack, or perhaps an overdose on sleeping medication. Nevertheless, the parents of Otto Warmbier are convinced it is murder. Perhaps it was, but we should instead take this moment to reflect on some glaring discrepancies between media response to this death and some choice others.
Sandra Bland was 28 years old when she was arrested for a traffic violation, ripped from her car and taken into custody by force, later found dead in her jail cell—an “apparent suicide” the authorities said. To the unwary, this case may seem unrelated, however, on Sandra Bland’s death there was no major outcry (besides from progressive circles), and the media bent over backwards to present the police narrative of suicide. The only violation that was noted was a non-criminal violation of the “courtesy policy” in the course of her arrest. No charges were filed, no officers arrested. Inconsistencies in the police report were almost immediately recognized, as righteous rage began to build in Black communities who had seen so many police murders already. Yet, the media hesitated to, at any point, implicate the police in her death or call it a murder. Warmbier’s death, however, was immediately recognized as “murder” before any evidence was made available simply because he had been in the custody of “enemy” forces.
This is not a call for patience, to wait for an autopsy report to either confirm or deny whether or not the DPRK is culpable for the death of Warmbier. If indeed they find that he had been murdered, or that any mistreatment while in custody led to his death, or even that he had committed suicide as a result of his incarceration, none of it necessarily matters in the final instance. We do not say this to be cruel, but to highlight an important fact which has been consistently overlooked. The unfortunate reality we must come to terms with is the fact that there is certainly an issue of extrajudicial and illegal killing of colonized people here in the united $tates by authorities, a problem whose authenticity continues to be contested in the mainstream media. Yet, by some strange force it appears that Otto Warmbier’s death will be murder regardless of their findings. If he committed suicide, he was driven to; if he was mistreated in any way, they are culpable; if it was an infection, it was negligent homicide.
Throughout this whole circus, the united $tates media has evoked an excellent principle in their analysis of incarceration and its implications, one which they naturally hesitate to apply equally. This is something we must do. The fact of the matter is that the united $tates legal system is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people every year, a disproportionate (obviously) being colonized people—particularly Black people. The DPRK, assuming for a moment that it is true that they murdered Otto Warmbier, have done so with no power alien to that of united $tates law enforcement. How can they adequately charge them with responsibility for the murder of an amerikan student when they have taken no responsibility for thousands of killings committed even more brashly, and with obvious intent. So far no evidence exists that the DPRK has murdered him, yet there is abundant evidence for the various “mysterious” deaths in u.$. custody being outright murder.
The problem here is twofold: we are first faced with the realization that the united $tates has no willingness to take responsibility or comprehensive action to prevent extrajudicial killings against colonized people (and why would they?). Oppressed nationals are not only not “amerikan” in the eyes of the legal system, they are not even truly considered human. So only the “respectable” members of u.$. society will see any outrage in the mainstream media after their flagrant murder, however these murders are seldomly committed. And when they are, it is not viewed as occurring on the same political plane as those committed against the colonized people, and thus it has no real affect on the inhuman practices of the criminal injustice system. In the sea of extrajudicial killings and “mysterious” deaths in police custody, the death of Otto Warmbier could hardly be considered a drop, and yet it somehow carries the weight of all previous killings combined.
This leads us to the second point, the fact that the DPRK, under unfair scrutiny and imperialist blockade, must often pay the price for any act of sovereignty over its own territory—including the sovereign right to enforce its own laws. External to the united $tates we see an astounding clarity in how the media is able to understand and challenge power. The DPRK is an easy target, with almost no critics (none credible, that is) to contest the narrative being spun. The poor amerikan who has been oppressed by perhaps one of the most oppressed countries on earth, how absolutely tragic. Where was this valiant truth-to-power rhetoric when Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood, or when Freddy Gray had his spine broken by the police? Where is the critical, “fair and balanced” analysis now that the murderer of Philando Castille has been released without charge?
Anti-imperialists must, and will continue to speak truth (and much more than that) to the most tyrannical power: imperialism. The united $tates should think long and hard about the implications of their own genocidal campaign against the colonized people, perpetuated through the criminal injustice system, before it dare speak up against the actions of the DPRK. Further, they should assume responsibility for the terrible conditions faced by the Korean people, who have suffered under their blockade and further imperialist aggression. It is through the weaponized rhetoric of self-righteous imperialist “journalists” that these hostile campaigns are justified, and increasingly devastating sanctions find support. The world should not be so quick to justify the genocidal campaign against the DPRK on such blatantly hypocritical grounds. Amerika is the greatest taker of lives on earth, but the cowards and imperialists at CNN and the Washington Post prefer instead to direct all eyes (and weapons) toward the country least responsible for the death of amerikan “citizens”.
Until there is equality in this world, and the crimes of the united $tates have been appropriately answered for, there can be no serious condemnation of the DPRK for any action against the united $tates or the imperialists. We should use this opportunity to discuss the greatest single threat to “amerikan citizens” currently: the amerikan government itself! Of course, we say “amerikan citizens” only in quotations, because naturally it is not white people who are falling victim in disproportionate numbers to the criminal body-mill. It is the colonized people, those who hold only a nominal amerikan citizenship, without any of the rights which it should imply. They have no right to outrage when they are murdered by the united $tates government in the eyes of the amerikan press, despite their outrage at the death of a single college boy living out his imperialist, anti-communist fantasies in the DPRK. So while the imperialist media demands a greater injustice in return for the death of Warmbier, we will demand the highest form of justice on the part of the united $tates for their genocide of colonized people: complete decolonization and disintegration.
We demand this not only in the name of every colonized human being living inside the united $tates, but every oppressed nation all across the world whose fate is decided by the amerikan whose empathy extends only so far as their lawn. Death to imperialism.
- “Sandra Bland was Murdered” (Rolling Stone)
- “Otto Warmbier dies days after release from North Korean detention” (Washington Post)