Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri, the latest scene in a long-running American tragedy

America is once again bleeding!
She is fraught with so much anger and tension with so many background roots that official government seems unwilling or unable (or both) to do much to alleviate. Of course, the shooting by police of another unarmed young black man who was apparently holding his hands over his head while being shot six times twice in the head, in Ferguson Missouri is the precipitating incident.
However, with three autopsy reports being performed on his body, and dozens of people walking the streets throughout the nights, for the past ten days since the murder of Michael Brown, the removal of the local police force from the duty of providing peace and security, the responsibility having been handed over to the State Highway Patrol department, and the calling in of the National Guard just last night by the governor....there is no end in sight to the simmering angst, which is being compared favourably to other similar situations from other years and other locations throughout the U.S.
Militarizing the police, following 9/11 in a panic of fear, without appropriate training, naturally has provided additional means of crowd control, but the original police shots, plus the overriding of the local police by the governor and the demographic shift of the population of Ferguson, formerly primarily white, now primarily black although the police force itself is mainly white and the feelings of injustice that have been obviously lurking underneath the surface of the community for some time all combine to generate a toxic social cocktail that is leaving a black mark on the face of the community, as well as on the country.
The president has weighed in a couple of times calling for calm and dubbing violence against the police as well as over-reactions by those police as inexcusable, never wanting to "tip the scales" while the situations are proceeding and investigations continuing. People who have driven to Ferguson have allegedly  been arrested, so the situation is providing an opportunity for those seeking to express rage from outside the community to bring their own feelings of injustice and powerlessness to the streets of Ferguson.
This is not the Arab Spring, not the tension in eastern Ukraine, and not the war between Israel and Hamas. It is a very localized set of circumstances. However, it does have the potential of burning another historic wound into the consciousness of the nation.
Race relations, in spite of the election of the first black president, have not been reduced with that election. Race relations, in fact, have undoubtedly become exacerbated, through the growth of the gulf between the have's and the have not's.
There are stunning facts about the suspension and expulsion rates of black young men from American schools, far higher than the rates for while male students. There are also stunning numbers of unarmed black youth having been shot by law enforcement personnel in all corners of the country, numbers that eclipse the figures of white young men in relation to law enforcement. Black mothers speak openly about "having had the talk" with their male children, introducing them to the reality of having to go out into an highly unfriendly world, orienting them to the rigours of how they will have to confront that world, without losing either their dignity or their life and freedom.
White mothers and fathers, on the other hand, simply do not have to have "that talk" and the disparity continues to haunt the streets of communities across the nation.
From the outside, we can only speculate at the depth and the angst of a nation conceived in the violence of rebellion, developed through the even deeper violence of a Civil War that set brother against brother, not over a foreign invader, but over the continuation of slavery, that monster of the abuse of power that will plague the United States so long as there is a United States.
No matter how "developed" and how "advanced" and how "progressive" the country has become, and will continue to become, it will always carry with it in its conscience and in its unconscious, the plague of its own history, in proportions that few nations will understand.
Even when the president sends the Attorney General, Eric Holder, himself a respected black leader, into the situation in Ferguson, to help calm the waters, there is no guarantee that his presence will have the desired impact the president hopes for. There is no single person who has the influence sufficient to the complexities of the situation unfolding in Ferguson to calm the winds of fear, injustice, vengeance and the sheer opportunism that always attaches itself to erupting social wounds.
Criminality, without race overtones, resides inside the body of every town and city; that element will rear its ugly head wherever and whenever the occasion opens to their subversion. With the race element added, the apparent lessening of prospects for young men and women facing a life of an education that is less than what is required to survive and a degree of poverty that attends many in the black community.... the shots fired into the body and head of Michael Brown are nothing short of the spark that ignites the tinder box of a dry and parched economy, that watches the rich grow their incomes and opportunities on the backs of those seemingly "sentenced" to lives of scarcity and resentment.
If those shots actually waken the country to the kind of disparity it has grown and fostered and nurtured, and brings all elements in the political leadership to their senses through legislation that levels the playfield through job opportunities, tax policies and long-term fiscal equity, then they will have brought a needed outcome to a festering disease of denial, insouciance and irresponsibility.
However, the prospects of that kind of long-term resolution to the underlying dynamics are not promising. In fact, the  public consciousness will shift from this crisis to the next, put the faces of experts on the television screens across the country, keep the news departments up all night providing coverage, and then move on to the next enactment of the long-running drama of division, both of race and of opportunity on the streets, in the classrooms, and in the court rooms of the nation.
And the world will be the needed "audience" for this most tragic and epic of struggles, the American battle the with demon of racism, their unique version of the eternal struggle between the powerful and the powerless.

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