What would a risk assessment for a field mission to the US from Congo look like?
When I traveled to Atlanta for the annual International Studies Association conference, I was traveling there from eastern DR Congo. I thought, if I worked in Atlanta, and had to travel to Congo for work, I’d probably have to do a risk assessment. What would it look like if I had to do one traveling from Congo to the US? I wondered. I realized I knew nothing about Atlanta. So I did a little research and, just for satire’s sake, wrote a hypothetical context analysis to assess the risk involved in traveling to Atlanta for a conference. I think most of the stats are pretty easily Google-able, because I did this in one afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t save the links.
This was written in the spirit of/inspired by the “If It Happened There” series by Slate. Enjoy!
Risk analysis for the mission to Atlanta:
Atlanta is a city located in the southern part of the United States, about 564 miles southwest of the capital, Washington DC. This is a region that continues to suffer from centuries of ethnic tensions, and today these tensions can be seen between the descendants of African slaves and the descendants of the Europeans that owned slaves and the plantations on which they worked. This scenario is complicated by the existence of a police force which is ostensibly meant to protect the community, but was initially established to, among other things, imprison runaway slaves or return them to their owners.
Today, 80% of African-American children in Atlanta live in extreme poverty, compared to 6% of their European-American counterparts; the level of unemployment of African-Americans in Atlanta (22%) is more than three times the level of European-Americans (6%); and the number of African-American and Latin-American students that graduate from public high school is 57% and 53% respectively, compared to 84% for European-American students. African-American and Latin-American students are more than three times as likely to drop out of school as European-American students.
Persistent inequality in Atlanta sustains these ethno-political tensions, which may, in the current political climate, be exacerbated by the broader national context. For example, frequent police brutality against African-American citizens throughout the country – while historically prevalent – has gained increased public awareness and notoriety in recent years thanks to social media platforms and the democratization of information-sharing it affords; and the grassroots response to police brutality has been the nonviolent civic resistance of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Atlanta is the capital city of the state of Georgia. In that state, it is not against the law for citizens to own, carry, and/or conceal arms (for example, in their vehicle). The law of Georgia, furthermore, includes a stipulation known as “Stand Your Ground” – that is to say, the law stipulates that an individual has no obligation to retreat from a perceived threat and can use any level of force they deem necessary, including lethal force, if that person reasonably believes they are confronted with an imminent and immediate threat of grave injury or death. A “perceived” threat and “reasonably” believing one is confronted with grave injury are highly subjective.
It was this law, in the state of Florida, which allowed the European-American killer of a 17 year old African-American boy to be acquitted of manslaughter in 2012, even though the boy was unarmed and did not constitute a threat. This event received widespread international attention and built momentum in the Black Lives Matter movement. The availability of arms in the country and the laws, particularly in states such as Georgia, that protect those who own and carry arms (implemented in a way that favors European-Americans) thus contributes to the reproduction of ethnic tensions and the broader context of insecurity in the country.
Atlanta has a high level of crime. The greatest risks are theft and assault, rape, and, to a lesser extent but still high compared to the national average, homicide.
Means of Reducing Risk:
Avoid leaving or returning to the hotel at late hours and stay in a hotel in a secure area. Do not go out alone at night, but always be in the company of trusted acquaintances that are also attending the conference. Do not walk alone after dark. Take a registered taxi to return to the hotel if it’s late at night. Make sure you have the phone numbers of the local police stored in your phone in case of emergency. Stay in contact, every morning and every evening on return to the hotel, with the office in Congo.