Ferguson went up in flames last week when a grand jury decided that there was not sufficient evidence to hold accountable the white police officer who killed unarmed, black teenager, Michael Brown. It was the finding that the most seasoned and, hence, cynical observers expected, although there was also a tiny, but persistent hope that those expectations would be disproved. No one should have been surprised that the reaction to that disappointment resulted in what the Guardian characterized as “one of the worst nights of race-related rioting in the US for a generation.”
Angry people act out in the way they did last week when they feel powerless to affect events and to make themselves heard in less violent ways. It’s de rigueur for folks like me to piously declare that we don’t condone the violence and that it only hurts the innocent. The first point is obvious and the second only partly true, but the fact that violence is usually bad should not be used, as seems to be the case locally, to obscure the nature of the provocation. It would be great if we could all emulate the Ghandis and Martin Luther Kings of world, but Malcom X had a point when he observed that “the chickens would come home to roost.” That given, there’s no way I’ll overmuch criticize Michael Brown’s stepfather who greeted the grand jury decision with exhortations to “burn this bitch down.”
Nor does it help that after the transcripts documenting the Grand Jury deliberations were made public, they suggested a flawed process which news sources often politely referred to as “exceptional.” There are by now many analyses of the problems with this particular grand jury. (I’ll try link to some of those that I’ve read in a separate post.) The upshot seems pretty clear: It starts with a prosecutor who should have either recused himself or been replaced in order to insure that the local perception of his bias against African-Americans and in favor of the police not be allowed to taint the process. It continues with a grand jury supervised by that prosecutor in such a way that, as the Guardian concludes, it looks like he “conducted what amounted to a secret trial with no adversary to challenge what was presented to the jurors.” Did anyone ever doubt what the response to the failure to indict would be from those who live with a sense of ongoing injustice and who are now told that the grand jury has done its job and they need to just suck it up and get on with business as usual?
Meanwhile, those of us who have observed the level of incompetence that has characterized the handling of this situation by all levels of state and local officialdom are expected to devote our energies to hand-wringing about the damage done by the the more volatile elements that rampaged through the streets of Ferguson. Sure, the refrain goes, it’s bad for hair-trigger cops to shoot unarmed young black men – a relatively common event, incidentally – but let’s spend our time talking about the riots because damaging property is so bad that it mitigates our need to take the anger over the death of Michael Brown seriously.
Oddly, however, when another group of mostly white folks threw a far more prolonged – and still continuing – temper tantrum, one that has had vastly more negative consequences than the rioting in Ferguson, it hasn’t generated nearly the same degree of pious sermonizing. I am referring to the ongoing social and political tantrum that got rolling about the time of the election of the first African-American president.
The fear that Barak Obama’s election has inspired has been both instigated and exploited by the Republican party and the various corporate funded right-wing groups for whom the GOP does due diligence. No matter how many indignant denials it elicits, it’s pretty clear that among the 20% of Americans that form the hard-core Republican base, racism is an animating force. These are the folks for whom code words and phrases such as “welfare-queen,” “black-on-black crime,” Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment, and Newt Gringrich’s “food-stamp president” dig were devised. The success of these race-baiting dog-whistles has created an environment wherein some politicians feel empowered to make overtly racist comments of the type that would have forced them from office just a few years ago.
But our angry conservatives have gone even further down their furious rabbit hole. These are also the folks who began arming themselves against their fellow citizens, the ones they consider “other,” the liberals (just as frequently designated communists, socialists, or, in defiance of logic, facists or Nazis) along with the various dark-skinned people who, in the mind of many such people, make up Romney’s 47 percent. After Obama’s election, they rushed out to buy more and more guns, and, in increasing numbers, join right-wing “patriot” groups in response to the paranoia inspired by a liberal black president. The increasingly triumphalist gun culture has encountered little opposition and so terrified any politician inclined to oppose it that it has entrenched itself to the extent that we may never recover.
Worse yet, the rage against President Obama that these people express also provides both the motivation and the cover for the GOP’s corporate-serving obstructionism – never doubt that ALEC types were first and foremost among the people funding the incipient efforts to stir up what became the undeniably racist Tea Party. They’re the reason we cannot have a rational response to energy and climate-change, or address issues of income inequality that are destroying our middle-class. They’re the folks who, in the name of discredited free-market theology, have restrained economic growth with their failed austerian policies, and who scheme to destroy Social Security and Medicare, not to mention their continuing hysterics about Obamacare. It is true that they are bought and paid for by the big money boys, but they get away with it because of the enthusiasm of the overtly and covertly racist Obama-haters whose fear and fury they
placate manipulate and occasionally share.
When the local columnists and op-ed writers, news show hosts, and average Joes spend as much time decrying the destructive GOP-enabled gun-culture that surrounds us, the refusal of Republican politicians to address our welfare while instead fighting against Obamacare, which is, sorry folks, fait accompli, I’ll take seriously their far too self-righteous condemnation of angry, hopeless, and ultimately helpless people in Ferguson, Missouri. When local media tries to make Roy Blunt accountable for telling racist jokes about “monkeys” in order to please the “family values” crowd, I’ll express some indignation about a few nights of rampage. We all know that lots of innocent people were hurt by the fire in the streets last week, but why does that trump the many more innocent people who have been devastated by injustice and the complacency of the well-off and powerful – and why is it more important than the political ravages the right-wing has perpetrated in their quest to neutralize the black man in the white house and render powerless the black men in the streets.