The grainy footage from the civil rights era protests of the 1960s is getting an update in HD with the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, stemming from the police shooting of an unarmed teen two weeks ago.
The heavy-handed police response with tanks, snipers, tear gas and use of noise-control devices harkens back to the Bull Connors and Laurie Pritchetts of the Old South using police dogs and water cannons on protesters. Another echo is the repeated insistence by police that the problems between police and protesters have to do largely with outside agitators.
It was outside agitators, you may remember, who upset the apple cart in the Old South in the 1950s and 1960s, taking, if you followed the storyline, compliant Southern blacks down a primrose, liberal, socialist, commie path toward an end to Jim Crow that they didn’t really want, because they liked the way things were.
Blacks in Ferguson, similarly, aren’t to blame for the unrest for the tense situation in the streets of the St. Louis suburb. Rather, it’s outsiders, today the boogiemen being anarchists, not liberals, socialists and commies, people from “out of town,” we keep hearing the local and state police on the ground say, who are the root cause.
The discord is a “distraction” from the cause at hand, say police, intimating that they really want to spend their time investigating the shooting of an unarmed civilian, when all indications are that their interest is in doing anything but that.
But Southern leaders were similarly taken off task from taking down the walls of Jim Crow by having to fill up their jails with protesters and bar blacks from going to public schools and voting back in the ‘60s.
They knew that they were engaging in Orwellian doublespeak, as do officials in Missouri, from the black cop chosen strategically to be the face and voice of the police response all the way up to the ineffectual Democratic governor who can kiss his hopes for a career in politics after his own disastrous performance goodbye.
The way a protest movement works is by drawing attention to an issue, and in that, the leaders of the local protest movement in Ferguson have already succeeded, not just in Ferguson, but nationwide. Injustice in Ferguson, to borrow from Martin Luther King Jr., writing from a Birmingham jail in 1963, is injustice everywhere, and if it takes a distraction or two to put the spotlight on the injustices that continue to persist in 21st century America, for blacks, for Latinos, for low-income whites, left on the outside looking in at a socioeconomic system that actively works to keep them in their place, then so be it.