Saturday, November 22, 2014

Waiting for Ferguson

We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone.  On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence."  In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.

But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?

Some are waiting for justice, for the ubiquitous pattern of anti-black police violence to be recognized as the endemic, systemic and unsustainable crisis that it is.  Some are waiting for an inverse figure of "justice," one that exonerates Darren Wilson, legitimizes his use of deadly force against Michael Brown and refuses the vilification of police officers charged with doing a job that, it is claimed,  cannot be done without violence.  Some are waiting for vengeance.  Some are waiting for reconciliation. Some are waiting for the revolution.  Some are waiting for this protracted annoyance, which has been dripping steadily upon our collective conscience like a Chinese water torture, to finally be supplanted by some other, just any other, news story.  Some are just waiting for nothing more than to watch Ferguson burn.

For better or worse, practically nothing is known about the actual men and women who constitute the Ferguson grand jury and who will be delivering what is, in effect, the most important diagnosis of American race relations since George Wallace "tossed the gauntlet down before the feet of tyranny" and affirmed what has always been and remains the truth of our divided polis, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." What we do know of the Ferguson grand jury members is that nine of them are white, three are black.  We know that at least nine of them will need to agree in order to return an indictment of Darren Wilson. We know that demonstrations are planned in at least 100 cities following their announcement.  We know that the world is watching them. And we know that they know we are all waiting and watching.

With news as potentially-incendiary as Ferguson's, timing is everything.  There's a practice, well-known by those whose charge it is to "manage" media, of softening the blow of bad news by releasing it in what is called the "Friday news dump."  (Numerous studies show that people are significantly less likely to notice or pay attention to news that is released on Friday afternoons, at the end of the work-week and at the beginning of the weekend.)  Ironically, Ferguson upends the conventional wisdom of the "Friday News Dump," since it is far more opportunistically ideal to galvanize demonstrators on a weekend, when they are not working, than it would be to do so otherwise.  As I write this, several news sources are anticipating the Ferguson grand jury's decision to be announced tomorrow, on a Sunday, Draw whatever conclusions one will from that.

Here is what we ought to be waiting for as we wait on Ferguson: the Truth.  As a rule, I'm disinclined to employ the "truth-with-a-capital-T" formulation, but this is an instance in which I am convinced such is merited.  The Truth in this instance is not, will not be and cannot be entirely told in whatever the Ferguson grand jury determines to be the truth of what exactly happened in the encounter between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014. I genuinely sympathize with the poor souls of that grand jury.  They've been given a charge for which they cannot but fail.

The rest of us, waiting on Ferguson, ought not fail, though.  As I argued in my previous post ("American Apartheid"), our nation is, has always been and remains an apartheid state. (In the words of Greg Howard, journalist and  bona fide parrhesiastes, we cannot any longer neglect to acknowledge that "America is not for black people.") According to a recent study, a black man is extrajudicially killed every 28 hours in the United States by  police officers, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes.  Think about that statisic. I mean, seriously, stop whatever you're doing and think, for just a moment, about that statistic.

That's a mere four hours short of one black man being extrajudicially killed every day in these democratic United States.

Whatever else you're waiting for from the Ferguson grand jury's decision, you should be waiting for this: an acknowledgement, a recognition, if not an outright condemnation, of the American apartheid state.  At the risk of minimizing this particular tragedy, it's long past time that we recognize both Darren Wilson and Michael Brown as symptoms, not instances,  and even less so causes, of a problem with which we have  refused to reckon, to our own peril.
[This post cross-posted at ReadMoreWriteMoreThinkMoreBeMore.}


Anonymous said...

You are truly a wingnut if you think America is an apartheid state; it does a utter disservice to the actual legacy of South African apartheid.

Lorenzo said...

Have to agree that describing a US with an African-American President as an "apartheid" society does devalue the reality of apartheid in South Africa.

Also, this post is full of good references and facts on the issue of African-Americans and the criminal justice system: