Remember when the Supreme Court declared racism to be over?
Yeah, about that.
As protests continue to last into the second week and the Ferguson Police Department making the guys from Police Academy look like Seal Team Six, we seem to be heading for a prolonged struggle. The news media love drama so they will hunker down and set up shop in the streets. Supporters will flock to Darren Wilson and conservatives will blast Jay Nixon/President Obama/Hillary Clinton for not solving the nonexistent problem of racism in this country.
And yet, all of them are missing the bigger picture.
Ferguson is not as isolated incident. It never was. What Ferguson is and will continue to be is a microcosm of the relationship between large segments of the population and their views of local law enforcement. It is an issue that has been deeply rooted into our history and is one that has now manifested itself in a way that we can no longer ignore the issue because it has hit us head on.
The time and place that Ferguson represents is one that is nearly seventy years in the making. It goes back to the post World War II years where the country was still very much segregated in where we lived, where we went to school, and where we attended our place of worship. This was the time of Levittown, the hometown of White privilege denier Bill O’Reilly, where non-Christian and minority families were legally allowed to be denied new, affordable housing. Being unable to join the suburbs, many minority families were forced to live in the city as it was the only place they could afford housing.
In many instances, this housing was only supposed to be temporary. However, there remains countless examples of these housing units built in the 1950s that are still occupied today. Since these units were not expensive and were not occupied by wealthy, influential tenants, property managers let the buildings get run down because they knew their tenets had nowhere else to go. They were stuck and the property managers knew this and took full advantage of it.
So what we had were large minority populations living in close proximity to each other in very uncouth buildings. So, naturally these areas garnered a certain kind of reputation. And so the people in these areas became accustomed to seeing local law enforcement patrol their areas far more often than those people living in the affluent suburbs.
So now not only are these communities rundown, but they’re essentially being policed 24/7. For teenagers growing up in these areas, it now becomes common to being stopped on the street by a police officer. Their interactions with the local police leave a strong distrust of them and the services they provide. As their affluent counterparts hardly ever see the police unless something goes awry, these teenagers see the police on a consistent basis. With every addition stop, these teenagers become more and more resentful.
And then something happens.
Someone close to them is killed and there is a delayed police response. Their friend is stopped and arrested on the street without reasonable cause. Or, their unarmed son is shot and killed by a police officer and is left to die on the street for the entire community to see.
What happened in Ferguson was a long time in the making. When you have three black police officers in a town that is 2/3 black then something isn’t right. The fact that additional policemen have been disciplined for racist comments should tell us all that this was in no way an isolated incident. The people of Ferguson are demanding justice not only for Michael Brown but themselves as well.
And for the first time, people are listening to them and hearing their story.