Ferguson, Missouri is a scant six miles from the house I grew up in. As I write this, it’s less than thirty miles away from me. I know Ferguson, Missouri. I knew it back when it was predominantly white. My parents would take me there often when we visited the old Korvettes store that resided in nearby Cool Valley just down the street off Florissant Road. White flight had kicked in a long time ago. Now, predominantly black, I have family and friends living there neck deep in the chaos that is following the murder of the young, black Michael Brown at the hands of a local police officer.
Despite the despair you might see and/or hear in the news, Ferguson is a beautiful little town with a lot to offer people. The white flight that the town experienced has a lot more to do with the drastic downsizing of McDonnell-Douglas, of the major employer for the area, before it was bought out by Boeing many decades ago. Without the constant infusion of revenue from defense contractor paychecks that fueled city development, a lot of people saw the writing on the wall and fled to greener pastures. As “traditional” America left, a new browner populace moved in ready to take advantage of inexpensive housing in an established area.
What makes Ferguson look like some kind of perdition is not the population, but the heavy handedness of the police against a peaceful African American community. In response to watching a black, eighteen year old Michael Brown and his friend walking down the middle of the street, a police officer initiates a confrontation that results in the young man’s death.
This happens just days after a similar confrontation is initiated against Eric Garner, the forty year old black man who suffered from asthma and obesity and wound up in a choke hold by police officers after he had the audacity to express his frustration at being harassed by the police accusing him of illegally selling cigarettes. Mr. Garner didn’t resist arrest. When the officer grabbed the frustrated black man from behind and put the long arm of the law around Mr. Garner’s neck, the black man put his hands in the air as if to surrender. Never once did he fight back to defend himself. And when he complained he couldn’t breathe the police responded by watching him die. Who knew the penalty for a black man selling cigarettes was death?
Michael Brown probably thought about that when the police officer drove the squad car right up against him. According to witnesses the officer couldn’t even get out the car without hitting the young man that was about to die. Michael Brown probably felt threatened. And if that was truly the case then he was right because the unarmed, young black Michael Brown wound up dead. The police department claimed that there was a struggle for the officer’s gun before the young black man was murdered. An investigation is being conducted so we’re not privy to everything. But we have enough information to know that another black teenager died needlessly because of another gung-ho police officer.
Black people are frustrated and angry. The black community wants swift justice. The police department wants to slow things down to make sure every move that goes down from this point forward is careful. Leaders of the black community say they wanted peace and they asked the black community to respect the memory of Michael Brown and the family of Michael Brown with peaceful protest and prayer. The leaders of the police department said they wanted peace as well. But then the police department responded by pulling out their camouflage uniforms, riot gear, full body armor, assault rifles with rubber bullets and laser sights, and the mine resistant armored personnel carrier that are little more than small tanks. People were arrested without being read their Miranda rights. The police arrested journalists. The police arrested the local state senator and an alderman that were there to support their constituents. The police fired tear gas at people protesting peacefully.
These people were unarmed and exercising their Constitutional right to peacefully protest. Now there have been some opportunistic people using this chaos to loot business and for other criminal activity. And while they might be “inspired” by the death of Michael brown to commit crime, the bottom line is that they are criminals and they deserve to be arrested and prosecuted because they committed a crime. They committed a crime and deserve punishment just like the police officer who killed Michael Brown committed a crime and deserves to be punished. But instead of arresting criminals, the police want to arrest peaceful protestors, politicians, and journalists who have the audacity to question their authority.
Now all of this is unfortunate. There was no need to kill the unarmed Michael Brown. There was no need to respond to the unarmed protestors with an escalation of police driven violence. How would the police respond if somebody in the Ferguson neighborhood brought out their own armored vehicle? Let’s think about that for a second with an analogy. How did the United States respond when Russia brought their armored vehicles to the border of Ukraine? It was unacceptable. It was a clear sign of defiance and a provocation. The mere presence of peaceful protestors is a provocation to the police. But the police are free to bring their big toys out when they are the ones who are clearly in the wrong.
And if all of this isn’t enough to show the rotten stench of disparity in America, let’s throw one more issue into the mix. Where was all of the police in camouflage and riot gear and military vehicles when Cliven Bundy was stirring up his militia buddies in Nevada earlier this year? Those protestors were armed to the teeth with assault weapons and sniper rifles aimed at federal officials and instead of meeting that force with government sanctioned overwhelming force, the encounter was deescalated and the government is still examining the situation, waiting to exercise its options. Imagine what would have happened if Cliven Bundy was black and the armed people who gathered to support him were black. I’m sure Mr. Bundy would have been dead a long time ago.
Ferguson may look like a hell hole. But it’s not because of the people who live there and walk down the middle of its streets. Ferguson is a hell hole because the black people there are treated like enemies of the state. This is just the latest example of a long list of examples of unarmed black people losing their lives because of some perceived slight by some police officer with a chip on his/her shoulder. Ferguson looks like a hell hole because it is full of black people and black people are truly the enemies of our police state.