The boiling racial tension in Ferguson and right across the United States could be explained on many level and it does contain many levels of deep rooted problems. A Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to recommend any criminal charges against policeman Brown, an officer who shot to death young black guy. It might have right decision, might have been wrong one. Almost certainly almost impossible one to make, given the fact, that they knew that it easily could spark riots, demonstration, perhaps even civil war, who knows, in some urban centers.
The facts are, on the surface at least, very few and simply: one late evening a young black teenager is stopped by a white police officer. The officer connects him to a burglary that just happened near by. Some sort of argument (perhaps scuffle) happens between the 18 year old youth and the police officer. The policeman discharges his pistol once or twice, injuring slightly the black man, who than starts to run away on the street. The policeman gets out of the car and pursues him. The black man turns around and starts walking toward the policeman. He is, and was throughout the incident, unarmed. The policeman shoots at him few times killing him. That was the cause of immediate riots in the city and involvement of all levels of government. Local, state and federal. It becomes a national crisis. Now the crisis starts again. I will not discuss here the particulars of the tragic events. Will not even ponder whether the Grand Jury decision was proper in my opinion.
In a peaceful and relatively prosperous and just society event like that would never lead to massive riots. But there is two massive and looming causes of this type of unrest. Both in Canada and the US. And it is the other issues that are most troubling and need to be fixed, not the individual tragedy(however justifiable or not justifiable the shooting was). That is huge economic inequality built over a racial divide and deeply rooted racial inequality and police forces themselves.
When, without any doubt whatsoever, you have a class, group, caste of people, who share the same characteristics that are specific to them only and not to others and they are disadvantaged on every level of life – than you call it by it’s name. An ugly name but absolutely fitting and clearly describing the situation. It could be women, could be gays and lesbians, could be people of different or specific faith, could be people of different colour of their skin (black, yellow, red – could be all of them or one specifically). In the last example it is called racial discrimination. And it doesn’t have to be (often is, but not in Canada or United States) enshrined in legal documents, constitution or any other provincial, federal or state law. But it exists very pervasively in the society. So pervasively that the fact that you were born to that class, right away puts a huge obstacles for the rest of your life. No one in their right mind, any reasonable person would not argue today that a race or gender or sexual orientation (with faith it is not as clear as faith dictates certain type of believes that are not rational in conventional sense) makes you less intelligent or more prone to the life of vices (criminal activity). Yet, as whole, as a society we do act like we strongly believe in tat exactly. That’s why I believe that we are racist in Canada and the United States. The case could be (and it should and many smart people are making it for years now) made based on two distinct racial groups in both countries. And bot different. The Aboriginal people (Natives) in Canada and black people in US. In Canada a case could be made that actually it is the federal government (not of any particular political stripes) that perpetuates the racist policy through its Indian Affairs Department. But if that’s the truth, than it could be easily argued that in democracy (which Canada without any doubt is) such a government would stand no chance to lat without tacit approval of thew rest of the society. After all, it is Canadians who choose their own governments. And Canadians can not say, that they don’t know how bad the “Indians have it”. It is an entire group who lives in abject poverty, with very limited access to normal education, health care and many other services readily available to the rest of us. It was even a subject of serious criticism and admonitions from United Nation agencies. And it is visible to all of us with a naked eye. Everywhere.
The same goes, just on a massively larger scale, in the States with black community. And they even have black president! And nothing as patronizing and as rigid as our Indian Affairs. But the entrenched in tradition and cultural phobias racism is alive and well across the border. Despite emancipation, abolitionism and all the wonderful social actions they have undertaken in the past. People change very slowly.
And it is true that alcoholism, crime, drugs are rampant in both communities. But not because they are black or red. Because they are poor. And they are poor because many of us wanted to keep them poor and uneducated. And so it is the anger of the entire community that is reacting that way in Ferguson, in Missouri. Not because that specific incident. Because that incident allowed it to boil over. Was a convenient catalyst for the riots – not the true cause. Just as it did boil over many times (on a smaller scale because of smaller population and largely living outside of major urban centers) in Canada.
The second issue is and should be change easier and quicker. Requires political will and iron fist in enforcing new rules. That is the problem with Police Forces. Somehow in the last 25 years they become a truly paramilitary organizations. Too powerful and with way too much adrenalin and raging hormones. James Bonds from a cartoon character, not a friendly force we look for help in moments of trouble. They have become aggressive beyond reason, their relationship with the community they serve is often based on fear and intimidation. And although there is still a lot of sympathy toward them – there is also a lot of fear. And fear is not the same as respect. And a very dangerous trend to (although being slowly curtailed by recent political decisions on provincial and city levels) shield them from any criminal responsibility. It is very rarely heard that justice is being served, when an officer has to face the judge in a court of law (which is in itself a much rarer event that one would think it should be). As a result, the policeman himself (it is mainly men, who seem to be pump with adrenalin) does not see himself as friend of the society. He views the citizen as a potential threat. In a way, he fears the citizen, too. That is a very dangerous and volatile relationship. It could destabilize the state politically. It is a direct threat to democracy and should be looked at very seriously.
The entire premise that a Police officer is given the extraordinary power to use force (even deadly one in extreme situations) against another citizen somehow got totally misconstrued as a carte blanche to use force. The right of use of force to be serving democratic society must be extremely scrutinized and every time it is used without a sound cause – should be punishable severely. And the determination should always be done by civilian oversight. Before it even goes to judge. And the use of deadly force is unthinkable without very few and very specific situations. Someone or officers life in clearly imminent danger. Otherwise we, a country that doesn’t even have a death penalty, allow for a murder to be committed in our name! The Police Force is here to uphold the law, not to make one. If we don’t follow that concept religiously – it all falls apart. A freedom is not possible to co-exist with tyranny.
So why is Ferguson burning? Is it really because there is a lot of hoodlums there, because one young life was tragically lost? No. It is burning because these two issues are in need to be repaired.