Huff Post headlines often overstate. Not this time though.
—- —- —-
All America has been shocked by the Baghdad-like scenes of police riot in the Missouri town of Ferguson. The shock is fully justified. Arrest and assault upon journalists, destruction of news crews; equipment. Military weaponry aimned at protesting citizens. Tear gas for everyone, Rubber bullets for clergy people. Elected officials pushed aside. Arrest of elected officials.
This was the Ferguson response to citizens protesting — often angrily, and why not ?– the shooting of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, by a policeman whom the town refuses to identify. (breaking : the shooter has now been identified as one Darren Wilson.)
It is all so familiar to those of us who’ve lived long. I well recall the most shocking police riot of all, in Birmingham, Alabama 1963, as officers controlled by the infamous Sheriff Bull Connor, turned high power water hoses upon protesting Black citizens. The images of that criminal act — bodies slammed up against walls by the power of water — can never leave me.
I had thought — probably all of us had thought — that the days of Bull Connor’s America were long gone, ended forever by the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
i was wrong. We all were wrong.
Fact is, in miuch of America it’;s still a crime to be Black. From Trayvon martin, gunned down by a slef-appointed vigilante because we wa Black, to Jonathan Ferrell murdered by a policeman while seeking help after an auto accident, to Rachel Bledsoe, killed by a white homeowner whose door she knocked on in search of help, to the Pace University student shot by a Westchester County police,man a few years ago, being Black often means having to accept the possibility of being murdered, for no reason or any reason, by whoever has a gun, police officer or not.
These acts, vipolations of Titke 38 (Civil Rights Acts) all, are bad enough. Ferguson waas worse. There, an entire police department, acting on behalf of a city government — reportedly all of it Caucasian — took upon itself to treat the town’s 69 % Black citizenry as an enemy. But they forgot one thing : we live in an age of instant youtube and social media.
The whole nation saw it.
Governor Jay Nixon of Missoiuri took action — finally — by replacing the Ferguson police with state highway patrolmen and police from Black-majority St. louis. and President Obama called the Ferguson police out even as he ordered the Department of Justice to commence a full investigation of the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown. Thereby the town of Ferguson has returned to something like normal.
But we in America cannot return to full normality. Because we know, or must know, and must face, that in much of America, and for many police depoartments, it is a crime to be Black. This is true even in supposedly progressive New York City. Under the previous Mayor, city police harassed Black men especially, arrested them, and denied them basic rights after arrest. Reports in recent New York Times articles detail an institutional reign of terror inside the City’s notorious Rikers island prison.
Much attention is now focusing on what critics call “the militarization of police forces,’ as local police receive military-grade weapons disposed of by the Pentagon as authorized under 1997 Federal legislation. A Democratic congressman, Hank Johnson of Georgia, is now calling for repeal of that authorization. His legislatoon deserves a full hearing. Though soem police forces may well need military-grade weapons in order yo deal with drug gangs, their use should be very strictly limited and those limits strictly enforced.
That would help, but it will not solve the basic problem : to many police — and to those who enable them — it is a crime to be Black, and anyone who is Black — young Black men especially — need walk in fear everywhere they go.
This culture must be stopped. I call upon the Justice department to iuse its Title 38 enforcement powers to the fullest, to prosecute police officers who violate the civil rights of Black citizens and to make it clear to everyone that future violations will not be tolerated.
It is not — I repreat, NOT — a crime to be a citizen of any national origin, of any skin color, of any lifestyle. It is NOt a crime, it is one’s inalienable right to be that kind of citizen.
What happened in Ferguson, Missouri, must never happen in America again.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere