Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#Ferguson as a segregation issue

At this stage in the unfolding Ferguson drama, I feel a discouraging sense of deja vu but am also unwilling to be resigned about these conditions. Bad racial conditions and relations have changed for the better in American history at various times. And have also changed for the worse. Often simultaneously.

It's my modified Hegelian theory of history: some things get better, some things get worse, and hopefully people can make more of the first happen than the second.

White racism has been successfully combated in the past. But it's never been successfully combated by people ignoring its existence.

Paul Waldman addressed that important point in By all means, we should ‘politicize’ Ferguson Washington Post 08/19/2014:

“Let’s not politicize this” is something we hear whenever a dramatic (and especially tragic) event occurs, and talk inevitably turns to the larger issues and policy implications raised by the event in question. The guardians of the status quo always say that this isn’t the time to talk about those implications (this is particularly true of gun advocates, who inevitably argue that the latest mass shooting isn’t the time to talk about the fact that our nation is drowning in firearms).

But what’s a better time to talk about those larger issues than when the nation’s attention is focused on a particular crisis or tragedy? The events in Ferguson have highlighted a number of critical issues — the treatment of black people by police, the unequal distribution of power in so many communities, the militarization of law enforcement, and many others. Does anyone think that if we all agreed not to propose any steps to address any of those problems for a few months, that we’d actually restart the debate over these issues unless there was another tragedy that forced it into the news?
This posture from what Waldman calls "the emerging conservative 'move along, nothing to see here' caucus" on white racism and police brutality in Ferguson is a segregationist way of saying the substantive concerns of black citizens are not something white people should bother to take seriously.

I generally take the attitude that cops shouldn't kill people if it's not necessary. It's understandable enough to me that the basic facts so far known about the shooting look suspicious to people in Ferguson, maybe even to some white people. But then, I grew up in a Mississippi town where whites were a minority, so I know I may be over-generous on that last point. So far as we know, there was an unarmed guy who most likely looked like a Big Scary Negro to the two cops who confronted him. The unarmed Big Scary Negro wound up dead with six bullets in him. The city left his dead body lying uncovered in the middle of the street for hours. (See below for more on that.) And there's considerable evidence that the nearly-all white police force had a record of misconduct towards the black majority of the town. Then even some segregationist Republicans like Ted Cruz and Baby Doc Paul have thought it appropriate to mildly comment on on the excessive behavior of the police in the aftermath.

Regardless of what actually happened in those moments where a white cop killed the unarmed Big Scary Negro, the incident and the aftermath have raised some serious questions about institutionalized white racism in practice in many places today. I also have the strong impression that politics in Missouri is highly racially polarized.

If anything at all from the rancid Breitbart News can be believed, the state Republican Party executive director thinks it's outrageous ("disgusting [and] completely inappropriate") that local activists are encouraging black citizens in Ferguson to register to vote as a way of addressing their grievances. (Charlie Spierling, Missouri GOP: Michael Brown Voting Registration Booths 'Disgusting' 08/18/2014)

The Republican legislature there passed a Calhounian attempt to nullify federal gun laws, which Gov. Nixon vetoed, that would have required fine public servants like the Ferguson Police Department to block federal agents who tried to enforce them. I was also quite impressed in 2012 to see that Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, along with his famous views on female anatomy, also advertised on his campaign website that he had been endorsed by John Stormer, author of the 1964 None Dare Call It Treason which was about as frequently found in Mississippi segregationist home as pictures of John Kennedy in African-American ones.

As a child and well into the 1970s, I don't ever recall going into a black person's home in Mississippi in which there was no picture or bust of John Kennedy. Often there was one of Martin Luther King, Jr., too. Always John Kennedy though.

So I'm glad the segregationist practices in Missouri are coming under critical scrutiny, even if it turns out that the Big Scary Negro who the white cop shot to death in Ferguson was a serial killer with a dozen dead bodies buried in his back yard and an al-Qaeda terrorist who was wearing a suicide bomber vest at the time of his death. In fact, the rightwing chain-e-mail channel is probably already saying that and worse about him.

On a Facebook thread, someone argued with a comment I made about Brown's body having lain in the street for hours "uncovered." It seemed like some stock segregationist comma-dancing tack. But I checked on reports of Brown's body lying in the street. Brittney Cooper wrote on Salon, , "His uncovered body was left in the street for hours, as a crowd from his neighborhood gathered to stand vigil." (In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream 08/12/2014)

Elisa Crouch reported for McClatchy and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri man killed by police remembered as 'gentle giant' 08/10/2014):

Friends of Brown's learned about his death shortly after he was shot Saturday afternoon. They saw photos of him lying in the street in Canfield Drive where his body remained for hours. Some joined the crowds of mourners and protesters who have gathered there since the shooting in protest of how Brown had died: black, unarmed and from multiple gunshots.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial called it part of "a series of shockingly poor law enforcement decisions," saying that series "continued when Ferguson police left Mr. Brown’s body on the street for four hours. How long does a crime-scene investigation take? Does Ferguson not have a tent?" (In Ferguson, a new sheriff in town. About time 08/14/2014)

They didn't use the word "uncovered" but that seems to be the meaning of the statement. It's always possible that the "uncovered" part was just an invention of the Mean Librul Conspiracy. But covered or not, it was part of the mix of the events of the last several days.

Michael Doyle provides some background information on how the federal investigation could proceed: Feds could go several ways in probe of Ferguson shooting McClatchy Newspapers 08/19/2014

Sunil Dutta's I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. Washington Post 08/19/2014 attracted some attention. Since it seems to be asking us to accept arbitrary behavior by police, it understandably attracted criticism, including: Joanna Rothkopf, There is so much wrong with this cop’s victim-blaming screed Salon 08/19/2014 and Charlie Pierce, Here With An Opposing View ... Esquire Politics Blog 08/19/2014.

Cliff Schecter joins in the mocking of the White Man's tribal group, the NRA, for not jumping to the defense of black citizens in Ferguson facing actual tyranical behavior by police in Why Isn't the NRA Defending Ferguson’s Blacks? Daily Beast 08.19.14

Recovering Christian fundamentalist Frank Schaeffer doesn't mince words on the larger conclusions he's drawing from the Ferguson events (America is now an NRA wet dream ... Patheos 08/21/2014:

Here's proof that we are a racist nation losing our civil rights while watching as our black brothers and sisters are brutalized. Yes, we are a racist nation. Period. There is a strong growing fascist movement building in the pro-gun, pro- law enforcement community. Post 9/11 we’ve become paranoid and deluded turning local cops into over-armed vigilantly storm troopers. America is now an NRA wet dream.
Eric Holder has A message to the people of Ferguson in the St Louis Post-Dispatch 08/19/2014.

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