The violence in Ferguson, Missouri is not just about the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen by a white police officer. The rioting in Ferguson stems from years of frustration about the way African-Americans are treated by whites, especially those with guns and badges who kill. There was Trayvon Martin. There were others. Michael Brown was just the most recent one that has captured the world's attention.
Ferguson, Missouri is a town with a population that is 60% African-American, yet the government and police force is predominantly white. There are towns and cities like this all around the country. When you couple the fact that the power in this country is with white people and that the population is shifting as non-whites make up more and more of the population, the potential for violence escalates.
I am a 61 year-old gray-haired white woman. I do not get pulled over by the police often. The last time I did was a couple of months ago while a passenger in my brother's car. The officer said my brother was speeding and had failed to signal for a turn. He asked for my brother's driver's license, which my brother willingly surrendered. The officer questioned my brother about his Connecticut driver's license, "Do you know you only have 30 days to change your license to Missouri?" "Why did you not get a Missouri license?" Then the state patrolman turned to me and said, "Can I see your driver's license." I knew the officer had no reason to ask for my license. I knew that could tell him no, but I handed it over. I saw no good coming from my refusal. My drivers license is clear, no tickets, etc. (it helps I am a white woman). He took it back to his cruiser. We waited. The officer walked back up. "I am just going to give you a warning," he said to my brother as he handed the licenses back to us. No ticket.
I know of African-Americans who are routinely pulled over, for no good reason except "Driving While Black." White people are afraid of young Black men. People you wouldn't expect to be racist have told me as much.
People are also afraid of losing power, losing self-esteem, losing control. That's what happened during Reconstruction in the South. The lynchings were a way of putting Blacks who might try to wrest power back "in their place." Intimidation has always been a way for people in power to hold on to that power. People do not willingly relinquish power. The racial and ethnic composition of this country is shifting and many white people are scared. White men have been in charge of this country since it's inception as the United States of America and they do not want to lose control.
In the 1960's we went through a period of race riots. I remember them. In fact, in Kansas City, I remember the riots after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. He was the last African-American leader who lead both Blacks and Whites regarding issues of race. President Obama is our president, but not a racial leader dealing primarily with racial issues.
I also remember when apartheid was abolished in South Africa. I assumed there would be massive violence because Black oppression had been so virulent and I assumed South Africans would follow America's lead. But that did not happen. Nelson Mandela happened.
Nelson Mandela was a man with no equal. He preached forgiveness even after spending decades in a jail cell. Mandela oversaw a relatively peaceful racial transition. He was amazing. I wish we had a Nelson Mandela here today. Or, I wish we had his white counterpart. What I saw in the St. Louis County prosecutor was a total lack of empathy or sensitivity to the straw that broke the camel's back.
I don't know what happened when Michael Brown was killed. However, I do know that a subset of Americans in this country have traditionally been mistreated, maligned and oppressed. The volcano erupted, and the prosecutor blames social media. Sad.