In this several-part series of posts, I address a few of recurring misconceptions that serve as the foundation for much of the mouth-foaming going on out there. These are the false assumptions people take for granted as “real” and “true” when they insist that the problem with Ferguson is not with the misappropriation of law enforcement but with the residents of Ferguson themselves. This is a response to popular “reasonings” used by Caucasian police apologists that I have come across browsing Facebook and online news articles’ comments sections. I focus on white people because I am “white” and it is not up to me to lecture people of color about racism. Also, white people in general, seem to have a weaker grasp on the notions of racism or socio-economic privilege than people who are not considered white, so they need this conversation more than others.
FALSE ASSUMPTION: Property damage caused by arson and looting is the worst thing happening in Ferguson, MO.
REALITY CHECK: When did the concern for damaged property trump the care for the wellness of fellow human beings? Have capitalist aims and consumerist desires eclipsed our ability to care about anything other than material stuff???
Again and again, I come across angry rants about private property being destroyed in the riots, as if this, somehow, justifies inhumane measures against the protesters. Property destruction is wrong and disturbing, to be sure and NOBODY IS ARGUING WITH THAT! But the outrage about loss and defacement of property seems disproportionately high comparing to how little the same individuals are regretting the loss of Michael Brown’s young life that has taken place in Ferguson. As I recall, in the Ten Commandments, “thou shalt not kill” comes before “thou shalt not steal”.
Nonetheless, “If someone came looting at me, God help them” seems to be a popular sentiment. Fair enough! And if someone shot your unarmed child and let his corpse lie in the street for four-and-a-half hours and did not have to go to trial that would at least give your child’s death some kind of due process – what would you do then?
Personally, I am very impressed with how few people in Ferguson let their anger guide their public behavior – they deserve a lot of credit and respect for being so orderly and in control of their tempers as they, once again, find themselves dodging tear gas and cruel public judgment for peacefully speaking up. I am always awe-struck and humbled seeing black people maintain patience, calm and poise, in the face of belligerent whites urging them to “get over it” and accept that we are all living in a purely equal, meritocratic, post-racial society.
Have you ever been in horrific pain, while everyone around you is telling you that it is all in your head and you should just get over it and stop making something out of nothing? If you have, you know what this does to the human spirit. If you haven’t – lucky you – but try not to take it for granted as if it is the only reality that exists.
I cannot express the bitterness, fury and incredulity I feel about this – and other displays of obliviousness and indifference towards social abuses of this nature. It is hard to fathom how otherwise seemingly decent people can so flippantly dismiss and devalue the cries of sorrow and frustration of tens of thousands of their own brethren but raise hell over theft and arson committed by a handful of loose cannons and saboteurs. Injustice and indignity scar us socially and psychologically – how can we allow this to keep happening in plain sight to whole populations and not only turn a blind eye but agitatedly defend it with the air of moral indignation and socio-economic superiority? Don’t you have children of your own? But you must think that you raised them better than getting shot by the police, right? Therefore, none of this applies to you whatsoever?
The cultural worship of the American Dream is, in very large part, to blame for this element of self-delusion. It is hammered into everyone’s brains from an early age that one is the end-all master of one’s fate and there is nothing else to it. For many in positions of relative social privilege, the illusion of perfectly independent self-sufficiency does not dissipate through life, but sticks and becomes more reinforced by examples of their own success. “Success” in this country traditionally translates into accumulation of material goods. Hence, having our earthly possessions attacked means more to us than just property damage — it is a symbolic assault on our core values, on our sense of self-identity and esteem and it feels so personal and sacrilegious, it can overshadow all other concerns and considerations.
It may be hard, but we must work on recovering our empathy for others from under the thick layers of self-interest and unhealthy preoccupation with “stuff” as a marker of our self- and social worth. The myth of all-reaching meritocracy makes it easy to think that the misfortunes that befall others could never happen to ourselves because we have done nothing to deserve them. It makes it challenging to comprehend that many others have done nothing to deserve it either, yet, terrible social injustices happen to them all the same. To grasp this would lead to having to admit that we are not in complete control of our lives and that is an unsettling and jarring revelation for an individualistic nation. It would also mean that we have to give a hoot about each other a little more…
If you are white and you are, somehow, not deeply upset about the dehumanization of your black compatriots, you have got to cut through the noise of loudmouth media talking heads, friends and family and get in touch with your own, unique humanity. Feel kinship – not hate – for all the hard-working, law-abiding, morally concerned individuals – just like yourself – that are being routinely ignorantly mistaken for criminals and treated as such by the police force that has no understanding or empathy for the population it has been hired to serve and protect.
Does it look like the police of Ferguson, Missouri are serving or protecting anybody other than themselves? There is a huge difference in attitude and, hence, outcome between a police force that walks around flexing its muscles and lording its authority over others – as opposed to public servants who are honestly and passionately committed to doing what they must to shield the populace from harm.
A fair, caring law enforcement agency would be beloved and admired by the people it serves but, unfortunately, it is too often the above-the-law bullies with badges that roam and rule our city streets. We must do away with the insular fraternal culture of the police – they owe loyalty to the public, not each other. Again, it goes without saying that not all cops are abusive or corrupt but the system of fraternity-above-fairness encourages – nay, forces – officers of the law to indiscriminately protect “their own”, regardless of the quality and integrity of each other’s character and actions.
You know what people want and need even more than justice for the past? Dignity for the present and hope for the future! It is that simple but those values are truly in the shortest supply. The wounds of the past history of ugliness and injustice will only begin to heal after the echoes of those eras are no longer felt in the Today. So, when people are raging like this and in such numbers, it is not because they have nothing better to do. It is because they are still kicked in the teeth by powers that be while we, the majority, stand by and watch our brothers and sisters being demeaned and vilified – and refuse to acknowledge that it is happening and it is wrong and it must stop.
For more MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FERGUSON posts, see: