Opening monologue on Ferguson

Welcome to Conscious Voices, a weekly program dedicated to bringing you alternative points of view and to challenging popular assumptions in order to help you be better informed and civically engaged. I'm Evan Davis, your host for this edition. Well, if we are to believe the media reports, "calm" has returned to Ferguson, Missouri after nearly a week of nightly protests since the verdict of the grand jury investigation of the killing of Michael Brown, who was Black by police officer Darren Wilson, who is White. In an earlier edition of this program I criticized the media for reporting on clashes between demonstrators and police in Ferguson by saying that "violence erupted at demonstrations", or that "demonstrations turned violent", when as countless videos and witness accounts revealed, it was nearly always the police who initiated the violence, in the form of tear gas and rubber bullets which were used to disperse crowds of erstwhile peaceful protesters. Moreover, the violence in this particular chain of events started with the shooting of Michael Brown. But even that analysis fails to take in to account the much longer history - one that includes a decades-long legacy of institutionalized racism in the state of Missouri and the U.S, in general, some of the hallmarks of which are increasing racial segregation in places like Ferguson and East Cleveland, the sight of another questionable police killing of an un-armed, or nearly un-armed Black youth by white officers in just the last week. Ferguson has gone from being around 40% Black just a couple of decades ago to being over 70% Black today, which its over-all population hasn't changed. Its police force, however, remains over 90% white, with most of those officers residing in other Saint Louis suburbs. Unemployment in Black communities remains much higher than the reported national average, yet expenses are high as ever. Home ownership rates in these blighted neighborhoods are dropping, as banks and lenders are loath to finance the purchase of homes in areas where property values are in decline by people of little means whose incomes and futures are insecure, making neighborhoods like Ferguson places where more money flows out than in. Crime rates aren't disproportionately higher, but police stops, searches, arrests, tickets and fines or residents - especially Black residents are remarkably frequent, leading many Fergusonites to feel they are under a constant low-level siege. The courts nearly always uphold the citations and when residents can't pay the fines they're assessed, for things as simple as jaywalking or expired vehicle registrations, penalties accrue, leading, in some cases, to warrants. Thus a portion of the population becomes criminalized, and, of course, a criminal record limits one's job prospects. And so the cycle continues. Amid all of this, there have been other police shootings of un-armed suspects in the Saint Louis area - including at least two that took place after the killing of Michael Brown , one of which, involving a psychologically impaired individual whose only crime was some odd, erratic behavior, and whose only weapon, which he wasn't even holding at the time, was a can of soda. Multiple witness videos show him being gunned-down by officers who were at a distance, though the man never made a move in their direction. The officers involved in that shooting are still on duty - no trial or grand jury investigation there. Indeed uit is very rare even nationally that police officers who shoot or beat or strangle, or taser suspects to death are prosecuted, let alone convicted. Excessive use of force by police may be far more prevalent when the victims are black, but it is almost always experienced by economically disadvantaged and working class people, so there appears to be a class division element to it as well as a racial one.
But while the shootings of Micheal Brown in Ferguson, and Tamir Rice in East Cleveland, brought the issues of racism and police brutality in to sharper contrast, the events have also provoked an outpouring of reaction from duller minds. White people and others of privilege who have, at best, a fairytale comprehension of racism and, worse, a fox news fathoming of racial disparity are burdening the internet with their soporific sophistry blaming Michael Brown for his own death, accusing those who speak out against racism of being the principle perpetrators of racial division, and admonishing Black people, generally, to "just get over it". Still others, who, on the surface, at least abhor racism and think themselves somehow immune, but who had no public reaction to the killings of Brown and Rice broke their silence only to condemn the minority of individuals in Ferguson who engaged in acts of vandalism, looting and arson, or who taunted the police. "I'm disgusted with the looters", an erstwhile compassionate and progressive friend announced. "There are better ways to protest", chimed another, while quotes from Dr. King about violence begetting violence and light chasing out darkness are offered up as patronizing aphorisms, as if to the protesters whose main tragedy is their inability to express themselves clearly. These expressions do not so much reveal a lack of compassion as a lack of understanding - a failure to imagine what it must be like to be Black and poor in America or Black and young and male, to have the feeling, reinforced by generations of experiences that the courts and law enforcement serve nt so much to safeguard your sovereignty as to protest the privilege of others from your aspirations equality, or to have your voice quieted, your words mis-heard or dismissed, your image reduced to a demeaning caricature and those among you who do speak out in ways that get noticed, have their characters, or even their bodies assassinated with ridicule or bullets. Those who say racism is a thing of the past ignore, not only the glaring disparities in policing and the justice system, but the miriad social, political, and economic circumstances that surround them and give rise to these injustices. Those who smugly or even gently proclaim that THEY don't see color and think of people OF color as equals FAIL to see, or choose to ignore the degree to which they benefit from the legacy of racism in its most hideous forms, and blind themselves to the slow slide of society toward the recreation of its fractured and shameful past.
Yet no one has said that all police are bad, or that all police shootings are unjustified, or that all white people are inherently racist, or that all young Black men are innocent - just that they are innocent until proven guilty and that they deserve equal justice. No one has condoned the burning or looting of stores in Ferguson - indeed, the media has largely ignored efforts on the parts of protesters to PROTECT stores from being damaged, and that among those doing the protecting have been young Black men, some of whom have identified openly as members of gangs. And I have yet to hear any of my white friends ask themselves, or challenge each other to answer the question; what would it take to drive YOU over the edge, to inspire so much frustration and desperation in you to make you feel that words aren't enough, marches aren't enough and that even blocking the streets and getting arrested aren't enough, and that when change can't come fast enough after your patience is exhausted, and suddenly there's a rock, and there's a window, how much anger can YOU bear and how hopeless will YOU have to feel before that anger takes the wheel and finds expression through the awful clatter of shattered glass? Or, perhaps more to the point, how much injustice can you bear witness to before you at LEAST link arms with those who are marching and join them in their outcry? The movement needs critical allies, not an alliance of critics. "Calm" has not "returned" to Ferguson, only white complacency and media silence. All else remains as it was . Calm was never there to begin with, only maybe now, the community is just a little more organized and a little more determined in its quest for justice.