The controversy in Ferguson Missouri is disappointing but not surprising. On one hand you have marginalized youth with little opportunity and even less respect for authority. On the other hand, you have a para-military police force that is unrepresenting of those it polices, out of touch, and deservedly afraid for its officer’s safety. At root at it all is the crux of this problem – both sides do not represent what America is supposed to be about and are symptoms of a larger disease.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Think about that famous American line from our the Declaration of Independence for a second and how it applies to Ferguson Missouri before you get my two cents. We’ll circle back around in a moment but you will see a critique of both sides of the debate.
First, this is America, not Liberia…but why do our inner cities feel and behave more like an impoverished African nation? We will spend trillions on foreign wars, a billions on incarcerating our citizenry, but will not invest the needed monies/energies for our infrastructure or the education of our youth to help keep them out of those expensive prisons… things that government is supposed to do. This is no greater felt than in places where young men like Michael Brown live. They physically live in but are not cultural citizens of the greatest nation on earth. Largely the system has failed them – their government, their culture, their fathers. You will not hear me bemoan or give excuses for poor life choices. You will hear me bemoan a system of dependency, a system that gives no bootstraps for people to pull themselves up by, a system that makes it okay to loot your or other’s neighborhood – not because you really care about Michael Brown, but because its an opportunity to score some free booze while you break shit and have ‘fun’ at another’s expense.
Secondly, you have the increasing police state that We The People are subjugated to. How many times have you been the victim of petty power or known someone who was…and all because the cop knew he could get away with it? The bad federal government policies exacerbate the problem. The war on drugs, the Patriot Act, the offloading surplus military gear…are all easy examples of what contribute to the problem of an abuse of power by the police. They are all misguided and top-down endeavors that empower the police in ways they shouldn’t and give them more say in our daily lives. Their role is supposed to be about law enforcement, not veiled martial law and big government.
Back to Thomas Jefferson’s words. Both sides are violating our core values as Americans. Life: Michael Brown is dead – that one is obvious – it is unfair and possibly unjust that he’s dead. What’s even worse is all the other young black men taken at the hands of police or in the names of gangs and drugs. Why are all these other young black men dead too? Why does it take racial sensationalism to mourn their deaths – they die by the score every day across America and their lives are just as worthy of being saved and lamented upon as Michael Brown’s. Liberty: We now see the beginnings of a push back against the militarism in our police forces, but this is nothing new. Since the sensationalism of the North Hollywood police being outgunned and out-armored by two robbers, police forces have better armed themselves in an arms race against criminals. The problem is that government handouts of military gear for civilian police work is incongruous. Taxpayers do not need to pay for MRAPs – which is a far cry from having an M-4 in every police cruiser’s trunk. That militarism only enables those with petty power to abuse it. Pursuit of Happiness. I cannot believe that officer Wilson enjoys the feeling of being an unwelcome occupying force on the streets that he is assigned. How does his wife feel about it? Further, he is not a part of the community. He has no ties, he’s not from there, he doesn’t look like those he’s supposed to ‘serve and protect’ – and that counts for something, I don’t really care if its not PC – its the truth. On the other side, how happy is the community with law enforcement when the police are seen as a 21st century SS squad? This is not hyperbole, the sentiment is a direct parallel. That is an untenable relationship from both sides and how can the social contract between the people and the government be consoled with such incongruous circumstances? Even if the police were from the local hood, they would most likely be seen as an Uncle Tom rather than someone who gets it and represents their values…even if that particular officer does…he works for a system run by white men who don’t. While this is an unfair oversimplification and no excuse for reverse discrimination, there is some merit to the sentiment. The debacle did not begin with the death of a white police officer at the hands of a black man…yet on the other side, it is not the police who cause problems every night when the sun goes down.
My whole point in this article is that the root of this evil is one of un-Americanism and bad policies pushed and entrenched by big government. It is about things far more insidious than poor urban neighborhoods with little opportunity, race, police militarization, or even the heralded and untimely death of a young black man. We have lost our way as a nation – in our civic duty to hold our government accountable in our name, how to fight for your rights while preserving others, and what your role is supposed to be as a member of the republic. This kind of stuff isn’t even on the radar and yet is the cause. It is why we are here and its only getting worse…