How naïve I am: silly white liberal ol’ me thought my visceral reaction to the ongoing police suppression of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, demanding justice for an unarmed black teen shot to death by a police officer two weeks ago would be shared by my friends on the right and left and across the racial divide.
I forgot that I live in America.
A Pew Research Center poll out on Monday actually has me in the minority among whites on thinking that the police response has gone too far, and in having no confidence in the police investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown.
Most whites, and most Republicans, feel that race is getting too much attention in coverage of the shooting and the resulting protests, which tells me I’m not watching enough Fox News Channel, because I can’t for the life of me understand how one can possibly view the shooting as being at all separate from issues of race.
Why I thought this would be a point of agreement with my Republican friends: again, here’s where I’m naïve, but I sensed that my reaction, supporting those protesting on the streets of Ferguson for the local police department to answer them on their demands for a full and thorough investigation, and being upset at the overhanded police response to the protests, would be shared by my conservative friends who have a natural inclination to be distrustful of government at all levels.
Where I misread, upon reflection, is, well, one, Michael Brown is black, the police officer who shot him, Darren Wilson, is white, so there’s a racial element that nobody on the right wants to admit is there, but it’s there, and two, it’s a cop shooting a person who is accused of a crime (in the case of the Brown shooting) and cops telling people to stay the hell out of the streets so small business owners can get back to, you know, selling stuff (in the case of the protests, and what’s more important there).
I want to say that I knew better than to actually believe that conservatives actually like smaller government and stand for the rights of the individual, that the smaller government/power to the people thing isn’t just a smokescreen for wanting to undermine government whenever Democrats are in charge, but …
Yeah. For all the handwringing over King Obama and his executive orders undermining the Constitution, push comes to shove about where we all really stand when a few hundred people assemble to assert their constitutional right to speak truth to power. Once local police in Ferguson decided that they’d had enough and started using scattered looting on the periphery of the protest marches as a pretext for tear-gassing and arresting citizens and the media, conservatives had their talking points.
You don’t have to say it out loud that it’s black people getting their just due. You don’t even have to phrase it as awkwardly as the mayor of Ferguson did in a clumsy live interview on MSNBC earlier today, repeatedly referring to “outside agitators” and residents of “certain housing,” i.e. “the projects.” You can just say that you’re all for peaceful assembly, but nobody in their right mind could say they support looters, because that’s distracting from what needs to be the real focus in Ferguson, the investigation into the shooting that precipitated the whole mess.
News flash for all reading this, on the right and left, black and white: the Brits didn’t just hand over the deed to North America peacefully because we asked them to. At certain points in our collective history, some of us, deciding that we’d had enough, pushed the envelope. We had a Tea Party, and the Brits didn’t appreciate our looting, and we eventually went to war.
People shouldn’t have to protest in the streets for the basics of equal treatment under the law, but that’s what we’re seeing in Ferguson, which is transcending race in one respect. Police coverups of shootings of unarmed citizens by police officers are near-epidemic, and the rhetoric about King Obama being put aside for the silliness that it is, are the most flagrant violation of human rights by our government or any government imaginable.
This episode could serve as an important flashpoint for us as a nation to address issues of race and the role of police in our modern society.
Sadly, what we see from these poll numbers is that what could be a flashpoint is instead acting as another mirror reflecting back at us how divided we remain, to our own detriment.