The Fire in Ferguson

posted in: Opinion | 0

Ed Said: Edward Gelernt’s comments on the world

This week: Violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri

“Ferguson.”  The word immediately evokes conceptions of brutal police homicide, contemptible judicial injustice, and insidiously ever-present racism.  It also elicits images of protests turned to guerrilla warfare, rubber bullets and Molotov Cocktails flying through the streets, the First Amendment’s specification of “peaceable” protest torched alongside vandalized buildings.

Neither is a pretty image.  The former speaks to deep-seated racial inequality pervasive in society and has sparked much-needed conversation regarding how to remedy the problem.  The latter speaks to–well, sheer human irrationality, frankly.

It amazes me how people can entirely disregard the very premises for which they are fighting.  Perhaps the father of modern civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his enormously famous speech “Beyond Vietnam,” recounted telling poor, black teenagers “that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems.”  There are lots of apt descriptions for this statement, but I would bet that reverse psychology isn’t one.

The day after Mike Brown’s death, protesters in Ferguson took to the streets in protest that began peacefully.  This quickly devolved into a Hunger Games-reminiscent clash between citizens and police, with rubber bullets, tear gas, and glass bottles only some of the projectiles launched between sides.  This clash came the day after wild acts of vandalism were conducted, with at least 12 businesses looted and a QuikMart burned to the ground.  What did QuikMart ever do to you?  And more pertinently, how do people hope to end police brutality by brutalizing police?

As a human being, one can understand the pent-up fury felt by the people of Ferguson over the racism of its police force, for whose unleashment Mike Brown’s death was more a catalyst than a cause.  Statistics reveal clear racial inequality in numbers of people pulled over, arrested, indicted, and convicted.  And racism goes beyond the police force: there is an unfortunately large number of individuals and groups in American society that simply do not understand that all human beings are equal.  Period.

But fighting fire with fire is counterproductive.  Peaceful protest is both an incredibly noble show of unity and maturity and a demonstrably effective method for instigating change (look at anything from the American Civil Rights Movement to the Arab Spring).  Violent protests have turned a respectable effort by a town to stand up against racism into an awful situation of a town destroying itself.  Some people in Ferguson would benefit greatly from relearning an important lesson: violence is never the answer.

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