Monday, December 01, 2014

Ferguson, MO

How do we think about Ferguson, MO? 

Lots of opinions have been expressed, many leading in the direction of further, national polarization at a time when we need just the opposite. 

I haven't read the 3,000 pages of grand jury transcription.  I haven't heard all of "the facts of the case," not to equate the recorded proceedings with "fact." 

Here's what I think I know about Ferguson, MO, and what I suspect may be in the background of considerations of recent horrific events there.

People of color in the small St. Louis suburb are vastly under-represented in public institutions such as government, school district and law enforcement. 

People of color in Ferguson receive a disproportionate level of attention and ticketing from law enforcement officers who evidently play a large, some would say undue, role in raising operating capital for the city through writing citations.  As a result, frustration with the police has been a long-standing fact of life in the small town. 

The Ferguson tragedy that involved the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, is not unique in our nation.  The fact that  nationally young black men are shot by police officers 21 times the rate of young white men doesn't help the community atmosphere.  Just here I could list a number of names in the news recently whose encounters with law enforcement officials needed in horror and loss. 

For years African American parents have coached their children, especially their sons, about how to react to police attention or encounters.  During the time I was a member of the Central Dallas Church, I had numerous discussions about this necessary "talk" that occurred again and again among our young men and their parents and peers. 

People who wield power have a responsibility to approach conflict with a mindset and attitude of de-escalation and "win-win," rather than "win-lose."  Controlling conflict accompanied by super-charged emotions requires special skills, servant leadership, expertise and great heart.  Developing these special skills requires training and re-training as a part of a normal law enforcement regimen.

Community policing is all about establishing meaningful relationships with and in neighborhoods that move beyond heavy-handed confrontation.  Again, this approach to law enforcement calls for special training and special law officers.  Community policing by definition builds relationships, depends on residents to support police work and instills confidence, not fear in the lives of those being served.

Looting, burning, vandalizing and violence are never acceptable responses to the failure or the injustice of public policy or institutions.  The rule of law is central to the stability and health of our communities and our nation.  Non-violent actions of dissent are vital to a movement for change, but not violence that so often destroys neighborhoods and businesses already oppressed by social factors so evident in this case.

The vast majority of Ferguson residents involved in protests conducted themselves peacefully, with strength, dignity and determination.  Such organized, community responses stand in the best, rich tradition of the American Civil Rights Movement, and should be encouraged and defended.

Poverty, a deep poverty, disproportionately affects African Americans in this small town.  Consider these facts:
  • 21% of Ferguson residents live in poverty
  • Almost 7% live below 50% of the federal poverty level
  • 30% of males between 12-14 years old live in poverty
  • Almost 40% of males 15 years old live in poverty
  • 30% of males 16-17 years old live in poverty
  • Almost 35% of children under 5 years old live in poverty
  • 26% of all youth live in poverty
  • Under 600 white residents live in poverty
  • Over 2,400 black residents live in poverty
  • African Americans represent 67% of Ferguson residents
  • Ferguson Police Department employs 53 officers, only 3 are African American
As I read, hear and learn more about the dynamics of the Ferguson experience, I realize that countless American communities are set up for terrible events just like these. 

As friends and neighbors, we need to work for a better life together here in Dallas.  

We need more friendships.

And, we need to talk. 


Anonymous said...

So if the policeman had been black then Michael Brown wouldn't have felt threatned and not acted aggressively?

Michael Brown was not the sweet looking kid protrayed. He was almost 300 lbs., over 6 feet tall, committed two felonies prior to the incident with the cop and apparently didn't know that when a person in authority tells you to get out of the middle of the street that you do just that. Oh, and the stepfather has been in prison severeal times and the mother is a thief.

Oh and cut out the poverty crap, that is no excuse.

Anonymous said...

What we have is a thug being hailed as a hero.I'm sure most people know Michael Brown was not putting his hands up in surrunder, but it's their feelings over facts.

Larry James said...

Please read the New York Times essays by Nickolas Kristof, "White People Don't Get It". . .I allowed these comments through just to spotlight people who have no understanding of inner city communities, especially of color. The officer should have been the expert in managing the situation w/o violence and death. Just the fact regardless of the other issues you present.

Anonymous said...

The other day some black teens killed a white immigrant with hammers in Ferguson. Funny, one doesn't hear much about it. Wonder if Obama will send representatives to the funeral?

Larry James said...

Anon. 10:17 PM, could you provide me documentation regarding your alleged "hammer" murder? I'd like to read a news report or at least understand your sources for such a comment/claim.

Anonymous said...

On early Sunday morning in St Louis, Zemir Begic was beaten to death by hammer-wielding assailants.

According to St Louis police, the 32-year-old Bosnian immigrant was driving his car with two passengers, including his fiance, when something hit his vehicle. Begic got out and was confronted and murdered by multiple attackers.

Begic was unconscious when emergency personnel arrived on the scene, and he later died at a local hospital.

Police have arrested three teenage suspects and charged them with murder. They are still looking for a fourth.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

In Ferguson, they want to make a protest about nothing and yet that attracted attention across the nation”

Adam Esmerovic St Louis resident

Although the suspects are black or Hispanic, and Begic was white, St Louis police say that they have no indication that race was a factor in the attack.

"We think it was wrong place, wrong time," police representative Schron Jackson told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

The murder has stunned the city's Bosnian community, one of the largest in the US. On Sunday more than 150 residents took to the street to protest what they see as increasing incidents of violence in their neighbourhood.

Given that the attack occurred less than 14 miles from the town of Ferguson, which has been under a bright media spotlight since the August shooting of a black teen by a white police officer, local residents have been quick to draw comparisons.

"In Ferguson, they want to make a protest about nothing and yet that attracted attention across the nation," Adam Esmerovic told the Washington Post's Todd C Frankel. "We're just trying to keep more police down here because of these little thugs."

Larry James said...

Terrible happening, of course. But what does it have to do with the other terrible happening? Two precious lives were lost. There may have been other murders that didn't get reported either; but the Michael Brown case is unique, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

What did it have to do with the other "terrible happening?" The immigrant who was killed did absolutely nothing wrong and yet there was very little publicity about it. Michael Brown was wrong on so many accounts and there was looting, burning and a great deal of sympathy for him. Think of the different outcome if:

1. Michael had respected the officer after being told to get out of the street.
2. Not robbed the store.
3. Not assaulted the clerk
4. Not rushed the officer
5. Not tried to get the gun

The truth is, all of the teens were thugs. Larry, you need to straighten up and fly right.

Larry James said...

12:41 a.m., yours will be the last comment that I approve without a name attached to it. Just seems fair.

To your comment: police sign on to "protect and serve" the community. They possess a great power advantage in all situations, what with weapons and authority. Facts: stealing cigars and pushing a store clerk are not capital offenses anywhere in the U. S. An unarmed teen charging an armed officer is not a capital offense. Running away from an officer is not a capital offense.

De-escalation of tense situations, even involving "thugs", call for wise officers who know how to measure their steps, roll up their windows, call for back up and not react like facing a capital murder suspect. No one is defending Michael Brown for his illegal actions or his lack of wisdom; but he was unarmed and relatively harmless and not guilty of anything worthy of execution or multiple gunshots.

AS to my need to need to "straighten up and fly right," I'm doing my best given all that I experience here.