From the Left
By Brendan LeRoy
Ferguson should become the contemporary poster child of the American culture war. Nov. 24 marked the city of Ferguson, Missouri’s eruption of anger and violence as a result of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9. The decision not to indict Officer Wilson was unprecedented; in 2013, out of 160,000 proceedings, only 11 Grand Juries did not indict the defendant, which prevents a trial from moving forward.
Despite the largely peaceful protests in Ferguson, some of the protests have succumbed to violence. Over 100 buildings have been damaged or completely destroyed. There have been attempts to kill the Ferguson Police Chief and the St. Louis County Prosecutor. Police property has been torched. By now the violence has dampened but only after dozens of arrests and injuries that had followed the Grand Jury’s decision.
The protests and subsequent riots led to national controversy and an ideological split among the American public questioning whether the actions of the Ferguson community are justified. The department has repeatedly been accused of racist actions against the community. Ferguson is two-thirds black, yet the police department has only three black officers out of its 53 officer force. Blacks compromise 92 percent of all arrests in the city. Before the shooting, racial tension arose when officers assaulted two black men and then charged them for destruction of government property because their blood had smeared their uniforms.
After the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown the police department made a series of extremely questionable actions. The night of the killing, the community came together for a candlelight vigil, which police responded by presiding over the event equipped with full military-grade riot gear. This caused tension between the gathering and the police to which some attendees threw glass bottles toward the police. The police swiftly responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, police dogs and LRAD sound cannons to disperse the crowd.
This incident was the antagonist for continued aggression by both sides. Despite the community and media’s request for the police department to disclose the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown, the police department concealed the information for over a week. Missouri made the airspace over Ferguson a no-fly zone in order to remove media helicopters from the area. The police removed their nametags so they could not be identified by protestors or the media. The Washington Post and Huffington Post reporters were arrested, an Al Jazeera reporter was hit with tear gas, an MSNBC journalist was threatened with mace and an Argus radio journalist was threatened to be shelled. A St. Louis alderman was arrested alongside other protestors. A reverend was shot in the stomach with a rubber bullet. A Slate journalist caught a police officer screaming into the crowd, “Bring it, all you f****** animals, bring it!”
The protests began generally peaceful in response to the citizens’ demand justice be served for the death of Michael Brown. However, it is apparent Ferguson quickly stopped protesting the death of Michael Brown and proceeded to protest a system to which they feel subservient, lacking an outlet for escape. Ferguson has a population of 21,000, 65 percent of whom are black. The American black community has never fully recovered from slavery, segregation, Jim Crow or the drug war, which disproportionately affects black Americans. Ferguson is largely poverty-stricken with a per capita income of $19,000 compared to the national average of $46,000. In the United States, blacks account for 13 percent of the population, yet compromise 51 percent of all law enforcement related fatalities and 48 percent of the incarcerated. In the United States black men have a 28 percent chance of being incarcerated during their lives.
When people feel injustice, discrimination and fear, when all means of escape appear to have been exhausted, protests emerge. Take a look at Europe: far-right nationalist and fascist parties have arisen across the continent by blaming immigrants for economic decline and the European Union for executing power over their sovereign nations. Within the United States, such fear and nationalism similarly incited protests against President Obama due to economic insecurity by blaming the President’s policies, taxation, social safety nets and a rising influx of immigrants. Just as the nationalists in Europe and the Tea Party in the United States, Ferguson has fear and anger. The killing of Michael Brown was the antagonist to erupt in violence.
I understand the anger, but the mechanism by which the anger was released cannot be condoned. However, just as it is clear I stand and sympathize with Ferguson, I cannot deny the validity of those who see the protestors as criminals and Officer Wilson as demonized for doing his job.
Who is right? Half of America sides with Ferguson and half of America sides with the law enforcement. The Right is condemned as cold-hearted racists who support a discriminatory system. The Left is demonized for supporting violent criminals who burn down buildings, loot businesses and attack law enforcement.
Yet, of course, we fail to recognize this is a repeat of the media’s portrayal of all major issues. Every situation evolves into good versus evil, black versus white, appearance versus reality, the oppressed versus the oppressors. Each side feels they are in the right and the other is in the wrong. We are unable to come together as a country and agree that an issue exists, view the facts and collectively act for the good of all society.
Today we fight the unceasing civil war of thoughts and ideas within the mind. Christianity calls this ‘original sin;’ the spiral of humanity into a disorder of anger, fear and evil which exists only within the human condition. Pope Francis powerfully defined this tendency toward violence: “War is madness. War ruins everything, even the bonds between brothers. War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction. It seeks to grow by destroying … humanity needs to weep and the time to weep is now.”
Brendan LeRoy is a junior majoring in linguistics.