Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ferguson: Democracy Wounded


Around noon on August 9th, 2014, in the nondescript St.Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, every principle of the American ideal was tested and laid bare to the world. An armed agent of the government was brutally attacked by a man holding the meager proceeds of his strong armed robbery minutes before.

Michael Brown, African-American, is now memorialized with a permanent marker at the site of his death near his day's start of a quest to smoke the morning away. His funeral was a national spectacle, attended by representatives of high office.

The cigars for his recipe were stolen with a forceful shove from a hard working Asian-American. This shop owner continues his daily struggle as a forgotten  victim.

The armed government agent, of caucasion heritage, whose face was smashed and who fought for his life against his own duty sidearm is now in hiding after every scientific and legal proof of numerous investigations showed that he acted within the law.

This story as I tell it, factually incontrovertible, will never be read dispassionately - the reader's blood pressure and pulse are already on the rise no matter with whom one’s sympathies lie. Facts alone do not tell the story, for the story is as old as the nation itself and contains every emotion born of the human desire for freedom, with all of the slogans and mythologies that history records in every era.

The story is about power, privilege, fear, poverty, and the essence of government. The story is about the political exploitation of race, how we rage, and a search for the answer to Rodney King's plaintive question: can't we all just get along?

Most importantly, the story is about what we are not allowed to discuss. The rhetoric of easy, pleasing answers demands 24/7 surveillance of law enforcement, millions of dollars thrown at training and commissions and investigations - all of which are largely "reform theater": looking like we are all really doing something about a problem the public seems to want us to do something about. It will be used as long as it can obscure other national embarrassments, or to maintain some degree of mollification until more urgent news pushes it to a vague memory.

We are not allowed to discuss realistically the needs of law enforcement to accomplish the demands of its public. We used Tasers and the outcry was "too much shocking!” We shoot armed criminals and the outcry is "why didn't you just use the Taser?"  We dress and act tactically and are told to "soften" up and be guardians and not warriors, yet when a theater, or cartoon convention, or military base is attacked our shiny shoes and the bullet in our pocket can't protect those who depend on us. We acknowledge the soul-killing brain crush of the job and yet force our officers to keep their need for mental health services a secret or lose their career.

We can't discuss that because black lives matter we need to find a solution for black victims of black perpetrators. The rare police shooting must be headline news with the obligatory riot while black homicide victims at the hands of black killers in any given year would stack four across and up to the observation deck of the Empire State building. But to address that would be racist, irrelevant, generate no headlines, and embarrass leadership that depends on misdirected fear.

We can't ask what we can do for our country, we must only demand what it can do for us. We can't invoke Martin Luther King's call for non-violence to change hearts. We can't mourn black police officer's deaths. They are not sufficient fodder for political platforms, votes, and headlines.

The lesson of Ferguson will not be found in the noise or the flames or the headlines. It will only be found in the silence of what we fear to discuss.