Ferguson, Misery

In Missouri a white police officer in a virtual all white police force shoots and kills a black unarmed victim in a virtually all black neighborhood near Saint Louis. Six times, fatally in the head at last shot.

That should do the trick.


Nothing new here. Happens all the time.

The white police chief, at virtually the same time that the Governor turns control of the situation over to a black captain in the Highway Patrol, releases a video tape of the victim (probably) stealing a box of cigarillos by shoving a clerk out of his way a few moments before the shooting–although later in the day he also acknowledges that the shooting officer, whom he has, at the time, not named, did not know of the robbery–suspiciously simultaneously putting the transfer of power in the background and protecting the police officer. Later,the version becomes that the officer didn’t stop the victim because of the robbery.

The release predictably enflames the protesting public, which riots the following evening, as it had done for several days running previously in the face of a militarily outfitted police force, causing the Governor to call up the National Guard (even more militarized) the following day.

But then, who really stands to gain in this situation, by an extension of the violence? Certainly almost no one in the actual community.

Perhaps the police chief, who, if not a racist, then is at least very skilled at giving that impression. But he is certainly much more wily than his detractors gave him credit for. The announcement and release seem ideally timed and orchestrated.

Perhaps, as well, blacks (or anyone else) who want to cause trouble for a white dominated society that continues to suppress the minority. Perhaps the riots which were hoped for by some when the 1% call was so popular (the occupy movement?) might still arise. If it does, I wonder if any of us will be able to say this only happened somewhere else.

When I was in college, some 50 years or so ago, a friend of mine and I thought we had a lovely fantasy; we’d enter a convenience store with a hand in our overcoat pockets, showing the shape of pistol barrels through the fabric. Then we’d say “this is a hold-up, give us each a cigar.” We’d refuse anything else the clerk might offer. Then, just as he became convinced we must be joking, one of us points the pistol he is actually holding in his pocket skyward and fires off a round. We couldn’t imagine the look on the clerk’s face when the report of the shot rang out.

A big part of the joke lay in the absurdity of an armed robbery for nothing more than a single cigar for each of us.

Well,maybe you had to be there. It seemed funny at the time. And ridiculous.

Anyway, the specter of the police chief releasing a video of the deceased robbing a convenience store of a box of cigarellos as if that might somehow have figured in him later being shot fatally six times brings back memories of that fantasy. Surely the chief is not suggesting a robbery of a box of cigarillos–or even the pushing of the clerk by the perp–justifies an execution.

No, it seems more likely he was trying to say that, having behaved so out of the norm as the victim seems to have acted earlier might indcate the perp was very likely to push the envelope and willfully threaten the cop.

Probably a very reasonable point. But why are our cops so ready to assume the worst in the first place? Probably because their jobs are inherently dangerous.

Some years ago I attended a police department’s morning meeting before going out on patrol. I got there early and listened to some of the banter in the room. They were giving one officer some grief because he lost a suspect by leaving him alone for a few minutes in the back of a police car. The prisoner had kicked the back window out and got away through it.

The police deal on a daily basis with an entirely different set of people than the rest of us do. We ought not be so ready to critique them. One mistake can kill an officer.

So they become hyper-sensitive. Better too agressive and alive than too friendly and dead. Being from a different class and race complicates matters immensely, even if the specific officer isn’t racist or elitist.

The role of the police, even in the small, white towns like I have always lived in, is not an easy one. Put them in an inner city and try to have them keep order amongst minorities with a force composed mainly of racially and financially different individuals and you have a formula for disaster.

It’s complicated. Very complicated. But pretending this isn’t a race and class issue, as a recent pole shows most white Americans apparently are doing, is stupid.

I wonder why I am finding more and more problems for which I seem to have fewer and fewer solutions.

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2 Responses to Ferguson, Misery

  1. Fred Drake says:

    read the comments on themattwalshblog.com about no one knows what really happened .

  2. Dallas Smith says:

    Growing up in the segregated South in the 50’s, it was all too common that black “criminals” would be “executed” in the course of “resisting arrest.” Thus, “the talk” that all black parents have to have with their children, to warn them of the dangers of not being totally submissive to any policeman. They know that getting killed is always a possibility in our unfortunately still racist society.

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