[T]he more things change; the more they remain the same.
In 2014 a white-skinned cop with a gun can kill an unarmed Black teenager and get away with it. A nearly white Grand Jury believed that the cop was justified. They game him a license to kill. And the cop said in testimony that the area was a gun-saturated neighborhood, that hated cops, gee I wonder why? In his mind this was akin to a killing field. So he and the Grand Jury believed that firing six shots at an unarmed teen was justice that the cop was right to shoot to kill.
On that hot August day in Ferguson, Missouri, population approximately 14,000, the relations between an all-white police department and the Black community was at an all time low. Blacks, a social under-class in Missouri, were suspicious that there could be no justice in a place where the majority of the citizenry is black, African-American, and the city council, police department, and other engines of local power and control are almost 100% white.
The community’s worst fears were realized when Ferguson’s County Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, oddly enough released the Grand Jury’s decision 9:00 p.m. at night and even odder still delivered a 20-minute rambling de facto defense of the no-indictment. As he stood there arrogantly outlining and canonizing into police sainthood Officer Darren Wilson, the trigger-happy cop who gunned down Michael Brown, and waxing eloquent about the work of his Grand Jury, one got the distinct feeling that he was killing the 18-year old teenager all over again.
But things should never have gotten to this stage. It was a simple thing. Bring a case to the Grand Jury and do the job ALL prosecutors are charges to do — defend and seek justice for the victim. All that had to be done was to present evidence that there is enough information to bring a case of homicide against the cop. And let a jury decide his guilt or innocence. Not make a Grand Jury try the case.
The involuntary urge to regurgitate might not have been the only reaction on my part as we had to look at and endure a smug County Prosecutor with a checkered reputation for looking the other way when his police kill ordinary citizens, berate eye witnesses, chastise the media, offered no new information and branched out into a condescending lecture on the rule of law and how he wanted society to react to his latest travesty and miscarriage of justice.
And then President Barack Obama did a flash Press Conference telling America that “we’re a nation of laws” and that the Ferguson decision was “the grand jury’s to make.” He appealed for calm acknowledging that the nation has a lot of work to do to heal the racial divide.
As all Black liberal conservatives are wont to do, President Obama said that we should “recognize that the Ferguson situation speaks to broader challenges we face as a nation” and the deep destructive legacy of racial discrimination (the closest Mr. Obama could bring himself to saying “slavery”).
For the president and many Black leaders, they see the issues, tensions, out-breaks of violent protests and challenges uncontrollably unfolding in Ferguson as counter-productive and unhelpful. Of course, insulated by layers of establishment security they cannot understand the acute pain, anger, hurt, hopelessness and despair still ravaging the Black community today. After the predictable outcome of a system of pervasive, institutionalized racism and bigotry liberal conservatives, especially Black ones, want protests to be sensitive and organized in a non-violent way when the state and its supporters, its institutions of political and coercive power are unquestionably violent.
The absolutely hilarious thing is that when whites in the Ukraine and elsewhere use more direct and violent tactics to overthrow unjust governments, destroy private property and create mayhem in the streets they are the very first to jump on American television to defend these “democratic actions” and “the right to protest” all the while when white folks are throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting guns, throwing rocks, setting up barricades, burning and looting.
Heck even Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain visited these violent protesters in the Ukraine, served hot coffee and did some pep talks to these “peaceful demonstrators” that had barricaded the streets, taken over government buildings, and were involved in running battles with security forces.
But that’s “over there” — not here. Here we demonize protesters and fall lock step into the narrative of “outside trouble makers” while offering absolutely no proof of these spurious statements. When Blacks protest it’s a riot but when White Europeans and others (remember “Occupy Wall Street?) do it its their “democratic right.” Even in legitimate struggles whites still tag Black protesters in a racist narrative and reflexively see Black people as criminals, looters and vandals.
Ferguson is now a flash point for what is wrong with American society. The fact is that the Grand Jury’s failure to bring back an indictment was the DIRECT maneuvering of Bob McCulloch who protected a killer police officer and failed in getting justice for Michael Brown. Darren Wilson got special treatment from a white-skinned infrastructure riddled with racism and bigotry. County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch managed the system to get the result that he wanted.
And nobody challenged him on this because the national media were not invited to his nighttime press conference and he only had local press whom he could intimidate. This was a flawed, suspicious process as full of holes as Swiss cheese. Weeks into the tragedy McCulloch’s office declined to recommend any charges to the Grand Jury. Instead, he took what appears to be an attempt at openness and transparency by dumping all of the evidence on the jurors’ laps and leaving them to make sense of it. That was so that he could blame the Grand Jury when they brought back the decision that was expected.
But Bob McCulloch could get away with this legal charade and do a press conference to smugly hoodwink ordinary Americans because he has political patronage. He’s a member of an entrenched white-skinned privileged status quo. From the Democratic governor Jay Nixon to Senator Claire McCaskill he’s proven that he’s an untouchable, protected by powerful politicians and police departments that see him as “one of us.” Despite calls for a Special Prosecutor he stood his grounds knowing that his political patrons would never push him to do the right thing.
So for all the calls for calm in the face of police brutality and murder of young, unarmed Black men, those who would speak in reasoned tones in the face of Black, youthful anger miss the point completely. They fail to see that Black youth ALL ACROSS AMERICA see the killing of Michael Brown not simply as white cops killing their peers but they IDENTIFY with these innocent victims in a direct way.
Know this: The events in Ferguson that spawned this sustained rage will not be cooled or quelled by President Obama’s oratorical skills. Nor will it be curtailed, stopped, by some Black priest preaching about love and justice. Both Black conservatives and would be leaders are clueless about the causes and the daily occupation type behavior of white cops in Black neighborhoods.
They cannot comprehend the depth of race-hatred; hostility and willingness to use deadly force that white cops harbor for Black youths, especially Black males, that they see as hoodlums, criminals and sub-humans. Herein lies the problem. Both Black and white liberal conservatives see Backs as inherently criminal, lazy, prone to illegal activities and not willing to pull themselves up “by their boot straps.” President Obama and dozens of these Black political leaders have called for Blacks to “take responsibility” and “pull up their pants” as if this was the be-all solution to a historic and systemic problem.
The fact is that Black people continue to be victims in America today — they ARE the victimized. So to ask them to respect the rule of law – the same law(s) that oppresses them -, channel their anger in progressive ways, something easier said than done, be change agents and so on and so forth IS ONLY POSSIBLE when the causes and dynamics of that victimization are examined, explained, addressed and remedied.
President Obama waxed philosophical during his hasty press conference by saying that there is a need for justice reform, even, while in his opinion, America as a nation has made enormous progress in race relations over the past decades. He inferred that this was so because “I have witnessed this in my own life” meaning that his becoming America’s first Black President is somehow proof of this.
He also said that throwing bottles would not solve these problems likewise “smashing car windows, vandalizing property and hurting anyone”” is not the answer. President Obama concluded by saying that “We do have work to do”and we should not try to paper it over.”
But Black and a growing number of White youths wallowing in the depths of anger, hopelessness and despair are not listening. There is no Black leader today that can control or calm the growing sense of alienation and injustice that continues to be visited upon the Black community day after day. The fact is because Ferguson (and there are now many Fergusons in the United States) is the culmination of all of the countless wounds and brutality suffered by and visited on Black people in white dominated and controlled society for centuries.
In the end this rage must go somewhere and the burning of businesses, property and equipment is the natural, but sometimes incomprehensible, rage, anger and pessimism that Black people feel in 21st century America. I do not in any way condone this kind of disruption, burning, looting and violence but I understand it. And this is likely to continue because there is no credible leadership to harness and focus this anger into a progressive result.
The political class in Ferguson is too busy grandstanding, concerned about its status, and see the issues facing ordinary poor Black people as incidental to their careers. Lofty, highfalutin statements on CNN, MSNBC and Fox 5 and feigned anger and concern will not solve these problems and no amount of posturing and glib, snazzy statements can be substituted for genuine grassroots, progressive people-centered leadership. It is this paucity of courageous leadership — BOTH Black and white – is so glaringly lacking in the Ferguson tragedy that allows Bob McCulloch and people like him to literally “get away with murder.”
If Michael Brown’s memory must mean something positive to all decent Americans of all races, classes and creeds, and if the lessons of Ferguson can be really learned, then out of this tragedy must come leaders who genuinely want change. These leaders must be prepared to PUT THEIR VERY LIVES on the line if America is to change. If not all we’ll get is the same vapid, pompous made-for-television pundits-cum-leaders pushing and recycling the same old, worn out and now ignored statements and chest-thumping rhetoric.
Originally published at OpEdNews.
MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City’s Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local community relations. He has covered the United Nations, the Caribbean and Africa in a career that spans over 32 years in journalism. As Editor of New York CARIB NEWS, a position that he’s held since 1990, he is in a unique position to have his hands on the pulse of the over 800,000 Caribbean-American community in Brooklyn, and the over 2.5 million members resident in the wider New York State community.