Featured here is a photo of police patrolling the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of a night of riots and looting in the wake of the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white cop. In that suburb of St. Louis, the population is 67 percent black, but there are only three black cops on the 53 person police force, with 2 other non-whites). What’s fascinating about the picture is that the front line of five officers (two from other areas, no doubt) is all black while behind them are roughly a dozen and a half white cops and not a single other non-white one. (Side note: Has anyone written about GOP opposition to Obama as a symbolic castration and its effect on blacks in this country?)
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s that no matter where black men turn, there are always white men with guns right behind them, whether it’s asshole cops or asshole gun owners. No matter if there’s a black man in the White House; there’s always a power structure founded on and fostered by whiteness that exists with little challenge.
What is there to say about the riots, about the looting, about the burning of businesses in Ferguson? Yeah, it’s wrong to steal shit and fuck up buildings. It’s more wrong to gun down a kid who, according to many witnesses, had his hands up and, according to official reports, was 35 feet away from the police car. If you believe the law is no longer on your side – indeed, if you believe its enforcers are using it to harm you – why the fuck wouldn’t you riot? Tea Party assholes march around with their guns out right after mass shootings, and no one shoots them down. Maybe it’s time for some Black Panther action.
Frankly, it’s a shock that there aren’t more riots, in Staten Island and in Dayton, in just the last few weeks of cops killing black men. As Brittney Cooper writes in Salon, “To be black in this country is to be subject to routine forms of miscalculated risk each and every day. Black people have every right to be angry as hell about being mistaken for predators when really we are prey.
“ The median income in Ferguson is $37,000, ten grand lower than the state average. The state has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Ninety-two percent of people arrested in Ferguson are black, taken in by, as mentioned before, the over 90 percent white police force. Of course, poverty combined with racism combined with the endless stream of whites killing unarmed blacks for no reason is going to add up to an explosion.
We as a nation have fucked over black Americans in so many ways. We’ve isolated many in neighborhoods with shitty housing, shitty schools, shitty businesses, and shitty health care. We’ve demonized affirmative action. We’ve gutted welfare programs, work programs, and other poverty programs. We’ve given prisons over to private corporations that demand to be filled with any kind of petty criminal under minimum sentencing laws and the worthless drug war. So we’ve filled the shitty streets with cops who have been given the right to harass blacks into hatred of the authority they should be able to turn to to stop the crimes that matter. We have made it so that, even if you’re not from one of these shitty neighborhoods, you are forever framed by them, forever framed as a thug or a bitch, forever suspect.
Then we’ve said, “You’re an American. You have opportunity. You can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and live the American dream.” Goddammit, the Rude Pundit wants to fuck shit up just writing that. He can’t imagine living it.
So, sure, it’s a shame that others now suffer economically (mostly) in the wake of the Michael Brown killing. But when when the plants in the ground finally grow, you don’t blame the leaves. You blame the people who put the seeds in the dirt and watered them, decade after decade.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on August 12, 2014, on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.