There's a tendency these days for Americans to look back at the 1960s with rose-colored glasses, to believe that the horrors that were visited upon protesters back then -- from the dogs sent to attack Selma marchers to the four dead at the Kent State shootings -- were watched by a nation that had come together in horror at these events. It's a myth that allows modern people to believe that if they had only lived through those times, they would have had the opinion that history has shown to be the correct one: They would have sided with the protesters against the police and the National Guard sent to stifle them. But the sad fact is that protesters back then, just as the protesters in Ferguson nowadays, were not actually greeted with a strong wave of support across the land, and quite a few people who'd like to believe they would have been on the side of the protesters back then were just as likely to have sided with the forces trying to suppress them.FOX affiliate KDFW reports on gun owners demonstrating in Dallas in solidarity with the victims of the Ferguson police. Only this particular set of gun owners to not appear to be of Northern European "continental origin," as Congressman Peter King might say: N. TX demonstrators protest police shootings 08/20/2014.
George Zornick notes in The Nation, For Many Politicians, Ferguson Isn't Happening 08/20/2014. This reluctance by many politicians to confront white racism was also a prominent feature of the 1960s.
That reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail of 1963 responding to an appeal from other clergymen to tone down his nonviolent protests:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been running some good editorials including this one, Eric Holder comes to Ferguson. Change is coming. 08/20/2014. It gives an approving account of Holder's stands against voter suppression laws, and puts the Ferguson events in the context of the Roberts Supreme Court's shameful and destructive decision in the Shelby County decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and opened the floodgates for Republican attempts to pass voter suppression laws aimed at denying the vote to black and Latino citizens:
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? ... More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. ... Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity. [my emphasis]
Here in Missouri, Republicans have been trying for several years to diminish that right by passing unnecessary voter ID laws. Thankfully, the courts have stood in the way. But it doesn’t take much parsing of words to understand the dynamic that is at play.Joe Conason also gives us some of background on segregationist politics in the state of Missouri, Missouri Burning: Why Ferguson’s Inferno Is No Surprise National Memo 08/19/2014. The "White Citizen's Counciler" of King's letter also appears in Conason's article.
Just Tuesday, Matt Wills, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said it was "disgusting" that some activists at the protests were registering people to vote.
"If that's not fanning the political flames, I don'’t know what is," Mr. Wills told Breitbart News, a strange characterization of a peaceful attempt to help people exercise their constitutional rights. "Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace."
Meditate on that for a moment.
The director of the state political party that controls the Missouri Legislature by veto-proof margins doesn't believe that the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, and the following 11 days of nonstop protest, have anything to do with race.
Welcome to Missouri, Attorney General Holder. You've got your work cut out for you.
Tags: ferguson, michael brown, police brutality, political violence, white racism