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Essay: Why Ferguson Happened

August 31, 2014
Plain English Version

Why the days of rage over the shooting of a single person on a street? Why, if the person was innocent, was it not just a tragedy?

The reason is the history of slavery and persecution of black people. It is a legacy that time cannot erase.

The condition of being a slave – even hundreds or thousands of years after the slavery ends – does and should remain in the souls of the enslaved. Jewish people remember it thousands of years after Moses freed them from the Egyptians. Persecution returned in the Holocaust. it reminded Jews that they always face danger.

Black people were slaves in this country. Racial segregation continued after they were freed! Any event, even a single shooting, reminds them that they always face the danger of being shot (or lynched) because they are black.

Due process will not make the feelings go away.

What happened next

The reaction on the streets was spontaneous and deeply felt. Reality changed when the media arrived. The tragedy became a storyline – a shared soap opera. This evolution cannot be avoided. Whether reporters made matters worse is a question.

It is true that events attract people who want to bring order to disorder.

It also true that events attract people who want to create and exploit disorder. Sometimes there are good political reasons to do this. Sometimes people want to make themselves famous. The rev. Al Sharpton seems to embody both reasons.

Ferguson and the police

The population of Ferguson has changed from mostly white residents to mostly black residents. Police in Ferguson tend to have 20 to 30 year careers. New recruits should reflect the racial makeup of the community. It will take time to change the profile of the force.

Many police forces are now heavily armed. Many of their weapons come as surplus from the federal government. These new police forces look menacing. However, the weapon used in Ferguson was a handgun in the policeman’s holster.

The vast majority of police never draw or use a gun. In their defense, the officer wants nothing more than to return home safely after work. The experience of being fearful can be overwhelming. Officers are not trained for street fighting. More than anything, that is the argument for using non-lethal weapons.

What is next?

The truth is very little will change. There is no reason for black people to stop feeling singled-out. There is no reason cops will stop overreacting when they are frightened.

We might wish for the politicians to stop  grandstanding.

We might wish for programs to be put in place that will help people. Instead of surprise and shock we might focus on facts and action. Black people are right to believe their color matters.

A team of experts should be dispatched to the site of a controversial event. Only if reviews are fair and lessons are learned, will there be any chance of beginning to change that perception.


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