The tragedy that continues to occur in Ferguson, MO over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown and the protests and police response which followed follow a familiar American pattern, one which is not about the political left or political right, but about the general state of American attitudes.
Liberals have focused on the injustice of the original shooting, given that Brown was unarmed and the shooting officer had no knowledge of the prior crimes committed by Brown. They have also focused on the police response to the incident with shocking violence and weapons of war. For them, this is about a bigger picture--the government abusing its power and trying to grab more for itself and suppressing minorities who already face discrimination. It is about the police using military style tactics to take a dump on our freedoms.
Conservatives have focused on the appalling behavior of Michael Brown himself. Video released from earlier in the day shows his storming into a convenience store and stealing cigars. When he is confronted by the clerk, he gets in the clerk's face and pushes them aside with amazing arrogance, bravado, and total lack of respect for others. Seeing his behavior, you can't help but think he's a piece of shit. Conservatives have also focused on the problem of protesters who are now looting and using the protests as means to take a shit on the rights of others, particularly innocent business owners. For them, it is time we restore some law and order. When looters are given free reign, we have anarchy, and this isn't safe for anyone.
It seems we have these types of racial situations in America quite a bit. The truth is that many whites are afraid of young black men. Watching the news, it appears to whites that young black men are scary--they are killing each other in the inner cities, fill the prisons, and look, talk, and dress different than whites. Many whites live in the suburbs and rural areas. Ferguson, Missouri is a small town of mostly blacks with a white police force. The cultures are different and misunderstandings are inevitable.
Being black in America still sucks. If you are a young black man, you already have a lot of shit stacked against you. In the minds of whites, you get lumped in with the "bad blacks" all the time. You are more likely to get stopped by police, harassed, and followed while shopping in stores. You don't get the privilege of not having to think about race. You should be judged by who you are as a person, not by your race. But in America, that simply doesn't happen.
The problem is that racism isn't the sole cause of this. White folks tend to over react. This is the white way. Think about the Puritans--they were so upset over how to baptize their children they decided to face sickness and disease crossing the ocean because Europe wasn't uptight enough for them. Think of the Salem Witch Trials, which was a purging of old white women because their uptightness got the best of them, or the McCarthy Communist scare. America is built on white anal retentiveness. Whites turn on their TVs or laptops at night and see black men doing scary things. This freaks them out. They respond by over reacting, which escalates the situation instead of defusing it. So instead of arresting Michael Brown, he gets shot to death. Instead of calling in the police force to handle the protesters, they get armed to the teeth with military weapons. Instead of being supervised, protesters get tear gassed. In the minds of blacks, this only confirms the racism and hatred of the mostly white police forces, which leads to more frustration.
Blacks are tired of being prejudged. Whites are tired of seeing young black men committing crimes. Seeing the looting of innocent businesses by little punks calling themselves "protestors" is not helping the situation. The police are supposed to preserve law and order. But because of the fucked up original response of the situation, they are unable to effectively do their jobs, like protect and serve. So now the governor has needed to call in the Missouri National Guard. Law and order must be restored. Enough is enough already.
The truth is that Michael Brown didn't deserve to die. He appears to have been a little punkass turd with no respect for the rights of others. He is hardly a sympathetic figure, but the police did act wrongly in killing him. The frustrated black community members had the right to voice their opinions peacefully through protest without the white shock troops being sent in to circle them. But this over reaction doesn't give young punks the right to act entitled and loot businesses and commit mayhem. Because the police lacked the social intelligence to adequately weigh the situation, Brown was shot and killed. The same reason exists why the mostly white police force showed up in army vehicles and started tear gassing the crowds, making things worse. It only confirmed in the minds of the blacks that the police were a bunch of racist dicks.
Part of the reason these problems exist is because America is more isolated and atomized than ever. People don't interact with each other because they are too busy living apart from one another and staring at computer and phone screens. This is especially true in rural areas like Ferguson. As income inequality increases, blacks and whites move farther apart. Rich whites live in gated communities and attend private schools. Poor blacks live in ghettos and go to ghetto schools. The suburbs are fading because the middle class is dying. People don't run across each other at the malls anymore. The opportunities for increased misunderstanding and fear increase. Blacks and whites have little opportunity to get middle class paying jobs. When you grow up in the ghetto and the future is bleak, people form gangs for protection and then the gangs turn on one another. People are left fighting for the scraps left behind by the super rich. Many young black boys have no fathers. They have no positive male role models, so they don't learn what it is like to be a man. They see rappers and sports stars as their heroes. They aren't receiving the guidance they need, and this is reflected by ghetto culture. The family has been destroyed by the lack of economic opportunities. When men become unnecessary, they feel unnecessary and don't act responsibly. In some schools, working hard and studying means you are "acting white" and is an open invitation to getting bullied. If that isn't a diseased culture, I don't know what is.
The white response to economic misfortune is also fucked up. From the 1980's until now, when the rich were busy dismantling the manufacturing sector, exporting jobs to increase stock returns, and desperately trying to get as much money as possible by playing financial games and bubbles, most whites adopted the attitude of "Oh well, there's nothing I can do about it. I just have to look out for me." With no social solidarity and the screwed up libertarian attitude of "Everyone can do it for themselves," the situation was ripe for economic fucking. Now the chickens have come home to roost. Whites are feeling the pain. Now their jobs are going away. Being a white Christian doesn't save you from economic misfortune. Where once you could work right out of high school and buy a new car every few years, send your kids to college, and have your wife stay home, now you get to work for shit pay while your wife also works. The kids have to be watched by parents on opposite schedules. Student loan debts keep you enslaved to corporate America. A new car? Very funny.
Instead of blaming the real bad actors, whites turn on each other. Instead of resorting to gang violence, they blame immigrants, minorities, liberals, or the black president. "If only we can get rid of these bad guys, things will be good again." It doesn't matter whether Hilary is president. It doesn't matter whether we have a Republican or Democrat in the White House. The fundamental nature of the system is not going to change. Part of this is the nature of the political campaign financing laws. There is too much money in politics and it makes it corrupt.
The more scary reality is that in some respects, we get what we ask for. At the end of the day, we do have free and fair elections most of the time (not always). This country has millions of residents. If we really wanted an honest president and congress members, we could find them. There is an ugliness about America that is reflected in our politicians. They are us. That is why we let George W. Bush's heinous regime commit torture and atrocities and let them get away with it. It is why we let the Wall Street greed monsters take over. It is why we support the terrorist state of Israel which kills thousands of Gazan residents and no one cares. Americans believe that they are the temporarily embarrassed rich, that one day they too will also be rich. It doesn't matter whether you grew up in the ghetto or in a trailer park, you think you too will be the next LeBron James or Warren Buffett. Americans don't have an attitude of social solidarity or being their brother's keeper. They don't see themselves as "being in this together."
Driving on the highways, you see how selfish and shitty people are. Rather than let you in, people would have you smash into the guard rail or miss your exit. "Fuck you buddy, I got's to get mine" is the prevailing attitude. The problem is that everything is interconnected. Like it or not, if you don't let me in to my lane and I have to choose between smashing into the guard rail or hitting you, I am going to hit you because my chances of survival are better. You may not feel it is your problem, but it is. When the environment gets screwed up beyond recognition because you pollute the drinking water and people in Toledo have no water, it will become your problem. When you decide to make short term profits and invest in corporations which switch your manufacturing jobs to China, it becomes your problem when you have no job. As a white collar professional, it becomes my problem when there is no middle class that can afford to pay for my services. Even if you think you are immune to economic problems, when the impoverished mob comes to loot because they have nothing to lose, it becomes your fucking problem.
What can I do? It is not hopeless. If every single person took small steps to not be a selfish dick things could improve dramatically. Most of it is about fixing your attitude. Think about how others have problems and give a shit. Try to help them as best you can. Toss out the "fuck you, I got's to get mine" attitude. Let someone in while driving, even if you have the right not to. Try to imagine what it is like to be born as someone different from you, whatever race or religion that person might be.
If we voted our conscience instead of what was "practical," things would improve. If we stood up against injustice, whether it be by politicians, the police, or individual thugs, things would improve. The peaceful protestors in Ferguson are heroes. And so are the business owners who armed themselves to the teeth and protected their businesses from looters. Giving those who are different from you the benefit of the doubt and not prejudging them is important. And regardless of your race, you have the responsibility not to be an asshole. You need to not commit crimes, loot, act entitled, and work hard to better yourself.
If all people embraced compassion with justice, solidarity with peace, along with tough love and personal responsibility, we could solve our problems. None of them are inevitable. It is up to us to solve them. We can, if only we put our minds and hearts to it.