The Ferguson, MO. story is viewed from this writer’s perspective as an American tragedy. Unfortunately, one of far too many tragedies when it comes to our citizens of African descent. Urban riots have come and gone in Newark, Detroit, Cincinnati, Miami, Oakland, Los Angles and even Portland, on a smaller scale, but when the dust settles thereafter, we remain with a head count of the deceased along with property damage numbers and no lasting reforms.
These outbursts most often begin with a real or perceived happening of racially-charged police abuse and develop into chanting, cursing, rock-throwing, Molotov Cocktail-tossing, gunfiring, looting and, often, too, the burning down of everything and anything representing those perceived as the oppressors, spiraling out of control and into anarchy. Ferguson happens to be a suburb of St. Louis, and thereby it’s a bit different from the big city outbursts we’ve seen in the past. Meanwhile, there could be more of these events in smaller cities and suburban settings.
Whether it’s the fault of blacks themselves or conditions beyond their control, Ferguson’s major weakness, we’re told, is lack of black participation in almost everything in that suburb. The facts add up to gross underrepresentation in city government and the school board with five of six xity council members white, the mayor’s white, six of seven school board members are white while only three out of 53 police officers are non-white.
Blacks there do not turn out to vote in other than national elections. That could be explained by the fact that a huge number of them are working people without the time or financial resources to either vote or run for office; so, when there’s no one who really represents blacks, they don’t vote. Like many other American suburbs, with 33 percent at the poverty level, the poor and dispossessed are legion in numbers, Ferguson residents are unable to do much of anything about their plight other than protest in riot mode when events push them to the outer limits.
St. Louis is known to be one of the most racially and segregated places in the U.S. These conditions have come to pass by longstanding discriminatory practices by banks, homebuilders and landlords, with no relief provided through local governments that protect and preserve those who prey on persons without the resources or know-how to strike back except through reaching critical mass and exploding as a whole area into riotous protest. Protests such as that which took place when the word spread like an August brush fire that an unarmed black teenager with his hands up in surrender posture had been shot to death by a local police officer.
Remedies for these unhappy events are widely discussed but never seem to materialize in sufficient response to make a lasting difference. Interracial coalitions that are intended to bring a city or region’s low-income and working-class families into the economic and educational mainstream are founded and then flounder or are never supported to effectiveness. Policy reforms are introduced and then slowly die off when peace returns. Of course, there’s always the hiring of more black cops, firefighters, school teachers and other local government jobs: These steps, too, have been initiated and then the new hires get coopted into practices for business as usual.
What’s needed are three breakthroughs in this country: one, reject racial prejudice by accepting others as the full humans they are, looking to character qualities rather than skin color, accepting all citizens as our equals; two, adopt a caring attitude for those among us who are not only poor but lack a future of any consequence through lack of opportunity and help them instead to achieve a full American life; and, three, develop federal and state programs that train and put to work through special programs designed and implemented to assist all members of America’s minorities with whites included, too.
Racial prejudice with all its ugly and debilitating manifestations could be brought to an end in this country of ours. Really, it’s our choice, and long overdue, but we could make it happen. For well over 200 years, Americans have proven to themselves and the rest of the world that we can succeed at what we set out to do. Why not dedicate ourselves in the person of every individual American to the eradication of racism here.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer. His column appears regularly in the Keizertimes.)