It isn't Rocket Science Folks: On the Civil Unrest Following the Killing of Michael Brown by the Cowardly Thuggish Police in Ferguson, Missouri
On Sunday evening, there were acts of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. These disturbances were in response to the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was shot multiple times by a police officer and whose body was left laying in the street for several hours. Witnesses to the event reported that Michael was shot without reason. The officer apparently shot him many more times once his body was on the ground. The police, have as expected, concocted a wildly ridiculous story to cover up the misdeeds of one of their own.
In response to the civil unrest, the commentariat class issues the 1) requisite condemnation of the "rioters" and 2) acts as though there is some great mystery for why people would take to the streets, "confront" the police, and "loot" businesses in their own community.
And of course, there will be an obligatory quote from Brother Doctor King that is taken out of context in order to condemn the "bad blacks" in Ferguson, Missouri.
The pressure to follow this public script is especially heavy for black and brown people.
I choose to deviate from those trite rhetorical norms.
Black people are not allowed to be angry. Black people are also not allowed to show the full range of righteous anger and indignation that is common to the human experience.
The outbreak of unrest in Ferguson was predictable and understandable. In fact, I am surprised that more communities which have been subjected to onerous, tyrannical, racist, classist, violent abuse by the police do not erupt in protest.
Like New York and other major cities, the small town of Ferguson has a history of racial profiling and harassing its black residents.
The murder of Michael Brown is a proximate cause of the unrest in Ferguson. It is not the deeper systemic root of the protests. Here too, the news media on both the left and the right will focus on the symptoms--righteous anger and rage--as opposed to the cause (over-policing; the militarization of the police; police racism; social inequality).
The Kerner Commission Report in response to the urban unrest of the 1960s offered a diagnosis and several suggestions that would likely still apply today. For example, the report noted the following:
* The final incident before the outbreak of disorder, and the initial violence itself, generally took place in the evening or at night at a place in which it was normal for many people to be on the streets.
* Violence usually occurred almost immediately following the occurrence of the final precipitating incident, and then escalated rapidly. With but few exceptions, violence subsided during the day, and flared rapidly again at night. The night-day cycles continued through the early period of the major disorders.
* Disorder generally began with rock and bottle throwing and window breaking. Once store windows were broken, looting usually followed.
* Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single "triggering" or "precipitating" incident. Instead, it was generated out of an increasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident-in itself often routine or trivial-became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence.
* "Prior" incidents, which increased tensions and ultimately led to violence, were police actions in almost half the cases; police actions were "final" incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.
Protests and civil unrest are part of the American cultural tradition: they are politics by other means.
There is a large literature on the topic and many experts in sociology, history, psychology, and political science who could offer sharp and smart insights on the unrest in Ferguson. It is unlikely that they will be given an opportunity to speak on national TV or radio, or to write essays for major online magazines or websites.
The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the cowardly murder of Michael Brown by the local police fits neatly within a cultural narrative of black violence, black irrationality, black hyper-emotionalism, black crime, and white racial resentment. This is the dominant discursive frame for discussions of black suffering at the hands of the racial state and white police authority. It is a type of default "common sense" knowledge; to deviate from it would mark one as "irrational" or "irresponsible". Unfortunately, this rule results in lazy thinking and a Fourth Estate which has abandoned its responsibilities to monitor the powerful, and to properly educate and inform the citizenry.