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      Wednesday
      Dec032014

      Ferguson Feels Like Forever

      Police meet a protestor this August in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown has sparked days of protests. (Photo: Scott Olson & Getty Images)What more can possibly be said?    

      Less than a century ago, the Michael Browns, Trayvon Martins, Eric Garners, and Oscar Grants were being lynched, six thousand of them alone during Jim Crow. A heroic Ida Wells tried to tell the story to the few who were even paying attention. Abolitionists had their printing presses burned. A bloody war ended the "peculiar institution" but it was reinstated as Jim Crow by the force of backlash.

      Ten years ago, the same sorts of young men were being demonized as "super-predators" by the mainstream media, reputable scholars and a spectrum from Clinton Democrats to Reagan Republicans. Mass incarceration was peaking. The US held 25 percent of the world's inmates. Who really noticed?

      Now, in today's world, the police murders of young African-Americans are broadcast globally on social media. The mainstream media follows along. MSNBC even goes live for two weeks in Ferguson itself. The United Nations rumbles. The superpower's image is defaced.  

      Obama's presidency empowers young black people in subtle ways. It's clear that something is brewing, the coming of a permanent multicultural majority. Mass incarceration is starting to be reversed. Riker’s Island is being unmasked as a domestic Guantanamo. 57 percent of Californians have voted for Prop 47, which may result in the release of ten thousand offenders. More Justice Department regulations are surely coming. Those facts, combined with the "amnesty" for five million immigrants, rattles a white majority deeply worried about its destiny as a minority.

      Rather than believing that the reactionary counter-movement can be persuaded to join a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we should expect that the backlash will become more virulent, and that polarization will continue. We need to cast off the common delusion that Americans are a people who are able to see eye to eye. That's never been so. A recent study even showed that NBA referees see basketball fouls through unconscious racial prisms.

      Entrenched and subconscious racism must be contained and defeated where persuasion is impossible. And in the gradual defeat of the new Jim Crow, we must be prepared for it to rise again, as it has ever since 1865. 

      In this sobering context, it's a good thing that 35 percent of while males, and 40 percent of whites overall, support Obama, and see policies like stop-and-frisk as police suppression. Whatever did we expect? That a white majority would see through and divorce itself from segregation? Coupled with the 75-80 percent of people of color who disagree with the police, that's a coming majority, though precarious. Unfortunately, a dangerous element of white society sees reality as Officer Darren Wilson apparently does. Here's a fully- armed uniformed officer of the law trembling at an unarmed teenager who, in his white eyes, seemed, "demonic...almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I'm shooting at him. 

      What possible logic of persuasion could ever counter this deep pathology? The only argument that might possibly give pause to officer Wilson's sympathizers is if they are asked to visualize a distance of fifty yards, half a football field, 153 feet. That was the distance between the officer's hot gun and Michael Brown's cold body after nine or ten shots. Still they will disbelieve.  

      The New York Times has it backwards in editorializing that the "meaning" of Ferguson" is that "the distrust of law enforcement presents a grave danger to the civic fabric of the United States." The Times, and most of the liberal establishment, think it's all a perception problem, a misunderstanding, which somehow accounts for the 20 percent higher risk of a young black man being shot by police than a young white man. 50,000 cameras attached to police officers are expected to clear up these misperceptions, but in reality might widen the gap. It's closer to the truth to argue that law enforcement itself presents the greater danger to the civic fabric. As the Times matter-of-factly reports, "the militarization of police has been part of a broader counterterrorism strategy of fortifying American cities."

      After the scores of "riots" or rebellions in black communities in the late 60s, and after the blue-ribbon commissions made their reports, the response was a wave of black mayors elected in our largest cities, in the white hope that they would "keep the lid" on the boiling neighborhoods. That was a useful reform but failed to prevent Los Angeles in 1992 when Tom Bradley was mayor. The election of those mayors was not accompanied by deep police reform or massive investments in jobs and community empowerment. And so a small middle class arose in black America while disinvestment remained the fate of most residents of urban America. Jobs and opportunities moved to the suburbs, and from there to Latin America and south Asia. Incarceration became the destination for millions of youth left behind. The children and grandchildren of those incarcerated ones are on the streets of Ferguson and many other cities, with no prospects. As Bob Dylan once wrote, "too much of nothin' makes a fella mean." We have come full circle back to the mean streets. A new multiracial, multicultural majority must create a new inclusive New Deal for the cities before the malignancy becomes untreatable.

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