Ferguson

For the past several days, the news media has shown us pictures of public demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. An appropriate question to ask is on what subject were the Ferguson residents’ demonstration trying to bring attention to?

We understand that a young man, poised to enter his freshman year in college, was shot and killed by a police officer. We have been told the youth was unarmed and that the police officer fired “multiple” shots which struck the victim. We were told the police officer was white and the victim was African American.

Following the shooting, crowds rioted looting and burning a few local merchants’ stores. Video pictures show dozens of looters carrying merchandize, from snacks to tires, out of these stores. Law and order was put on hold that evening.

The next evening, local police, dressed in combat gear and supported by bullet proof military type vehicles set up blocking positions, directly in the path of peaceful marchers. When darkness came, television pictures projected scenes reminiscent of the Ukraine.  The sky lit up with exploding tear gas shells and reports indicated rubber bullets pelted the crowds.

Last night, local police were removed. They were replaced by State Highway Patrol personnel with an African American leader. Instead of military gear, the Patrol wore their normal uniforms and walked among the demonstrators. No violence took place.

  • So what are the lessons?
  • The shooting of the teenager has not been fully investigated. Eyewitnesses and the police account differ sharply. What took place afterwards, however, is difficult to connect as “cause and effect” to the shooting.
  • The demonstrations appear to be genuine reflections of how the local, largely African American population feels the need to throw off what they feel is repression (implied, repression from the white minority). The excuse to demonstrate now, of course, was the shooting but the distrust and frustration was long held.
  • The looting more reflects a crime of opportunity. Poor people and especially those who harbor grievances, feel justified when they “liberate” goods from merchants they feel have taken advantage of them.
  • The initial militaristic police response represents a frightened, poorly trained police action. In a way, this response telegraphs the broken relationship between the police and the local residents.
  • The Highway Patrol’s success reflected a better, less reactive, reading of the real community atmosphere. One can always increase the level of police action if crowds become unruly, but it is near impossible for the same police force to dial its response down.
  • Left unanswered are question about why is the African American Community not more prosperous?
  • Why was the police force 94% white in a community where whites make up about 35%?
  • Why was a police force equipped with Iraq style military tools?
  • And, why would a police officer feel it necessary to shoot someone multiple times?

While Ferguson is a specific situation, in truth Ferguson’s situation is just a different version of what has taken place, or what can take place in cities all over the US.

Douglas provides an opportunity, a mirror, into which White and African American leaders could look and ask themselves the question of what they could have done but have not done to prevent “Douglases” from occurring.

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