Ferguson and race

I am very very reluctant to comment on the current situation in Ferguson Missouri and elsewhere. I feel so astoundingly unqualified.  As a middle-aged white male, I cannot bring anything like any personal history to this situation.  But an event that I thought couldn’t possibly support political polarization has become politically polarized, and I will try to comment.

First of all, I’m not sure it’s possible for the Ferguson chief of police to bungle this situation more completely.  Last Thursday, thanks in part to the timely intervention of Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the situation in Ferguson had begun to calm down. Friday morning, Thomas Jackson, the Ferguson police chief, released video footage of what appeared to be a strong-arm convenience store robbery, claiming that Michael Brown was the main suspect in that event.  As Ezra Klein put it, that footage was completely irrelevant to Brown’s shooting, or to the actions of Officer Wilson, the policeman who shot him.  It was, in fact, a transparent attempt to co-opt the narrative regarding Brown’s character.  And it meant that the already volatile atmosphere in Ferguson exploded over the weekend.

(Jackson’s handling of this case, BTW, couldn’t have been less helpful.  In our household, in fact, ‘Ferguson police chief’ has become synonymous with foolishness; as in “well, she’s plenty stupid, but is she Ferguson police chief stupid?”)

There remain dueling narratives in the case.  This story does a reasonably good job of sorting them out. But the subsequent actions of the Ferguson police all tend to support, at least, this conclusion; that the Ferguson police aren’t used to having their authority questioned, and react badly when it is questioned.  The militarized uniforms and armaments facing unarmed protestors, the arbitrary arrests of journalists, the hostility to anyone attempting to film them, and the pathetic attempts by Chief Jackson to leak information to make Michael Brown look like a thug, they’re all classically defensive overreactions. Watching the cops react to the protests is eye-opening.

What everyone seems to agree is that Brown was jaywalking.  A policeman stopped him, they had a confrontation in which Brown reached through the police car window, or was dragged in.  A scuffle ensued, in the car.  Brown broke away, ran off, and the officer fired at him.  He turned, faced the officer, put his hands up.  The police narrative is that Brown then charged the officer.  Most eyewitnesses agree that Brown had surrendered, arms in the air, and that he did not charge the police vehicle.  At the very least, I’d have to say that the most credible evidence points to the shooting as a homicide, requiring, at the least, the filing of criminal charges against Officer Wilson.

But what’s so disheartening about this is the hopelessness and impotent outrage and misdirected fury within the Ferguson black community.  If the town of Ferguson is two thirds black, and yet all elected offices in the town are held by whites (except for one City Council member), what happens in city elections?  Last election in Ferguson, voter turnout was 12%. And it all becomes clearer.

Why vote if it won’t make a difference?  Why engage politically if it doesn’t matter?  Why try to succeed, if the only outcome you ever see is failure?

What’s gone wrong?  Why does Dr. King’s vision seem so far away?  Why are so many young black men in prison, why do so many young black women have children out of wedlock, why is the African-American family in such crisis?

I don’t know. I don’t know what ideas are even out there.  I do know that the Bill O’Reilly ‘black people just need to be moral, go to school, go to work, stop having kids, and stop committing crimes’ elderly white male conservative nonsense couldn’t be more misguided.  Our society needs to do more, provide more opportunities, incarcerate fewer kids. And stop pointing the finger, blaming the victim, making young black people the Other against which Virtuous White American must always contend.

And for kids to be constantly, incessantly hassled by the police isn’t helping.  I haven’t experienced that kind of harassment in my life, because I’m an old white guy.  I have African-American friends, and they say that hassles with the cops are a routine, regular part of their existence.

And maybe there’s this:  Every morning, after nights of rioting and looting and protests and violence, young black men and women go out into the streets of Ferguson with brooms and shovels and clean up the streets.  It’s their city, and they don’t want it trashed.  That’s a force for good, if it could be harnessed.

But for starters, train cops better.  Reinstitute community policing. Make every polcie vehicle carry a camera; make police work entirely transparent.  Let the police/citizen relationship return to what it should be; non-adversarial, cooperative, Officer Friendly ready, always, to help.  And get out the vote.  There’s a Ferguson police chief, for example, who needs to go.


4 thoughts on “Ferguson and race

  1. starbugary

    Did you see that it came out today that Michael Brown did not “rob” anything, the video actually shows him paying for the cigars. The convenience store says that none of their employees called the police because there wasn’t any shoplifting. I wondered from the start why they referred to it as a “Robbery” when if it was true it was actually petty theft or shoplifting. The convenience store says that the police forced them to hand over the footage that they then released against the advice of the DOJ to smear Mr. Brown, so now they have put the convenience store in danger! Utterly pathetic and disgusting the way this has been handled. All you have to do is look a little deeper into this and it almost seems like a bottomless pit, the police don’t seem to have a realistic system of handling complaints or keeping tabs on their officers. It sounds like bad behavior by the police in Ferguson goes back pretty far with zero accountability.
    The voting turnout is sad in my opinion. I see this as an opportunity, if handled in the right way this is an opportunity to change things. This goes for both political parties as well, if the Republicans really want to expand their tent and be more inclusive of the African American community Ferguson is an excellent place to start. Step in and step up, listen to the community and partner with them to work toward change. Don’t just jump to conclusions and automatically rally behind Officer Wilson. Wait for the facts to come in and if in fact Officer Wilson was wrong then admit it and show the community that you are impartial and want to work with them. Register voters and bring them into the process with open arms, What I just said applies to the Democrats as well, they already have a big tent so step in and work with the community to make changes. Register voters and make sure that they know when and where to vote. Find community members who want to get more involved and start developing candidates who can do the job. There is so much opportunity here in a place that needs and seems to want change. Hopefully this opportunity won’t be squandered, what a way to honor Michael Brown, his death could be the catalyst for real and meaningful change and progress, well for the party that wants progress,,,thanks for sharing this, a lot to think about.

    1. admin Post author

      I saw the footage purporting to show Brown paying for the cigarillos on Daily Kos. But Kos took it down after a couple of hours; the footage isn’t clear, and it contradicts what that convenience store people say. It’s also, of course, completely and totally irrelevant.

        1. Shantel

          If you want to make this about Republicans and Democrats, historically Democrats have been far more racist than Republicans. At least Republicans wear it on their sleeve- Democrats, just expand slavery, take crucial parts of out of the civil right act and the southern branch of the Democratic party becomes the KKK. They have passed more legislation restricting the rights of Blacks than any other party. Remember, it was the Republicans that freed the slaves. The Democrats made it impossible for them to make a life for themselves. It was under Clinton that the prison population became 80 percent Black. Just something to think about.


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