My Dear Readers,
Another fire is raging. Prior to the summer of 2014, Ferguson, Missouri was a quiet town near the city of St. Louis, MO.
According to the US Census, 21, 203 people call Ferguson home. It the home of Emerson Electric, and its largest academic institution is Florissant Valley Community College. Its claim to fame is being named “Playful City, USA” for the fourth year in a row.
However, it’s not playful in Ferguson anymore. It may now be known as the City of the 3Rs: Rage, Ravage and Riot. As we watch the developments in Ferguson over the past week, we are horrified. We ask ourselves, how can this be happening in America? Race rioting in 2014? When we have Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States? What do “these people” want?
What these people want is what all of us should have, which is the ability to walk the streets in peace without being viewed as being suspicious or being stopped without due cause. As a parent of an African-American adult son, I want to be able to sleep peacefully without the fear of my son being killed by law enforcement.
As a parent, when I receive a telephone call from my children, I want not to have to respond to an emergency that resulted from their interaction with law enforcement.
These people want what I want. I want peace. I want the rights that come from paying my taxes—one of which is protection. When it comes to law enforcement, I want to know that my complexion won’t be a consideration for receiving protection.
When my children were young, “Officer Friendly” came to the elementary school handing out toys and badges and if a K-9 dog was available, the kids were allowed to pet the pooch.
Today, Officer Friendly has been nailed shut in a coffin and buried deep. “Po Po” and his sidekick, Fang, have replaced him and his friendly pooch. Now when they come to school, it is about roaming the hallways and searching lockers for weapons and drugs.
There is a reason why law enforcement buried Officer Friendly and his four legged buddy. Law enforcement has come to accept that due to its history of abuses, relations with ethnic minority communities will always be ones of tension and suspicion, and that occasional “blow ups,” like the one happening now in Ferguson, are going to be regular occurrences.
My writing is not about a rant against law enforcement. As a veteran of the US military and the son of a retired police officer, I believe in law and order just as much as I believe in a moral and just society. No, my intent today is to write about those who seek to Rage, Ravage and Riot.
The following letter I received from one of my readers inspired me to write this segment. She states:
…. It is sad about Mr. Brown, the 18-year-old black youth who was shot by the police. Another senseless murder of a young Black man.
Then there is the looting and burning of the community that the people live in. I have never understood looting and vandalism as a means to show protest. The news coverage reminded me of the films of the civil unrest, rioting, and looting of the 60’s.
When will this stop? Will it always be this way? What is the solution? Will we find a nonviolent way of protesting?
Will protesting in a non-violent way be effective? What will it take for young black men to stop being murdered by each other or by the police?
A middle aged African-American woman residing in Seattle wrote this letter. Like I said earlier, in answer what do these people want?
I will leave the question of the events that led up to the current sordid affairs to the outcome of the investigation by the US Justice Department and its investigative arm, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The point is that just like all Americans, what we want is peace, and in this case, the peaceful resolution of what appears to be a racial conflict that started with the death of an African-American teenager in Ferguson, MO.
As we begin, it would be helpful to take a look at the demographics of the town leading up to this incident.
The town has a population of 21,203.
67.4% of the residents are black, 29.3% are white
The police chief and mayor are white
Of the six City Council members, one is black
The local school board does not have any members who are black. It consists of six white members, and one Latino member
There are 53 commissioned officers on the local police force of which three are black and two are of other ethnic minority groups. There are no blacks in supervisory or executive positions in the chain of command.
Three of the officers are women and 50 are men.
In a recent state report on racial profiling (2013), 86% of the traffic stops, 92% of the searches and 92% of all the arrests in the city were of black residents
In comparison to whites, blacks when stopped by police were twice as likely to be arrested.
So, what we have now is a town that is a disaster waiting to happen:
A population that is overwhelmingly black (67%),
That population being controlled and its laws enforced by a police department that is overwhelmingly white (97%),
And, the executive power (mayor) administrative authority (city council), and the educational leadership (school board), ALL in the hands of the white minority.
So what do these people want? Peace. These people want the commitment and understanding that the law enforcement and government apparatus in their town will show value and concern for the lives of their children, regardless of their race.
According to one media report, police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes kill a black person every 28 hours. There have been a number of highly publicized incidents in recent years in which unarmed African-American males have been shot to death or died while being detained by law enforcement. These incidents include:
In 2001 Seattle WA an unarmed Aaron Roberts was shot and killed while his arms were raised. The police officer stated his weapon accidently discharged. No charges were filed. The officer was transferred to a different precinct.
In 2001, police in Cincinnati, OH killed an unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas as he attempted to evade arrest. No charges were filed.
In 2009, 22 year old Oscar Grant was shot by a police officer in Oakland CA while lying face down following an incident in which the officer claimed he accidentally grabbed his service revolver while reaching for his taser weapon. The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in prison.
In 2012, NYPD police officers barged into the home of unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham without a warrant, shooting him to death in front of his grandmother and six year old brother. The case has been under review by the Department of Justice for the last two years. No findings have been released.
In 2014, Eric Garner, 43 and unarmed, died from a illegal chokehold during a encounter with the police in Staten Island New York. The medical examiner has ruled the case as a homicide. The officers involved have not been charged. The NYPD has called for more training for its officers.
In the majority of these incidents, peaceful and nonviolent protests & demonstrations were planned and carried out. However, in several communities: Oakland, Cincinnati and now Ferguson MO, rage, ravaging and rioting erupted. Why?
There are two types of human behaviors that can lead to this rage, ravage, and riot. These behaviors can be described as a reaction and a response. Contrary to common opinion, these are as different as night & day.
It is under the cover of darkness that the 3Rs– rage, ravaging and rioting—become the rule. It is a reaction to the shooting. It is a statement of anger, hopelessness, and poverty. It is at night that looting and shootings happen, allowing fear to consume the inhabitants. It is under these conditions that people can become splintered and defiant, thus allowing lawlessness to take hold.
During the daylight and evening hours, reason prevails, allowing for peaceful gatherings. It is reason and hope that allow for non-violent protest and demonstration to be the response for those seeking change through an orderly process.
As of Wednesday, 8/13/14, the Associated Press reports that civil unrest and racial tension remain highly inflamed. How are the police responding to peaceful demonstration and exercise of free speech?
Not well. According to media reports from Color of Change on 8/14/14:
“Last night, St. Louis and Ferguson police, dressed and equipped with armored tanks and military rifles fired tear gas, rubber coated bullets and flash grenades at thousands of Black residents exercising their right to peacefully assemble and demand accountability for the police killing of 18-year old Michael Brown.
Many were injured in the war-like environment as police displayed a blatant disregard for civil rights, unlawfully arresting dozens of people including members of the press. Local authorities have proven incapable and the federal government must step in.”
Let me see hmm…
A small town that was once known as “Playful City, USA.” is now on fire.
American citizens are exercising free speech in a manner of peaceful assembly. Police are responding using armored vehicles, tear gas and smoke grenades
Police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes throughout the USA kill a black person every 28 hours.
Seems like we haven’t figured out what steps to take. Shall we leave it up to our leaders?
My Dear Readers,
WE know the score.
WE are Americans.
And WE also know that WE can’t expect those leaders to solve this riddle of OURS called RACE.
“Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn.”
-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey Called Life
So what do these people want?
The same as you may want.
Until the next crossroads….The journey continues.