I am feeling nervous as I set about to write of the events in Ferguson, Missouri because I am white and I don’t feel like have the right. Perhaps my whiteness means that once I put my thoughts on paper they will be judged as inaccurate, insensitive, an outsider’s view, or even racist. But this whole situation is so fraught and it presents us with a microcosm of the whole complex ganglion of feelings, both benign and malignant, around race in America and policing in America. So I will try to think this through on paper, in my normal klutzy manner, and I will add my voice to the voices of other Americans, both black and white, as we try to sort through and help each other repair these matters.
The Hate/Fear Loop
Black fear and rage coalesced, for some, in gangs. Hip-Hop and Rap music played a role. The image of the thug emerged out of that fear and rage to help infuse black communities with an image of opportunity, strength and power.
The white community reacted with fear and hate.
Then our government waged a war on drugs. Police targeted minority communities 1) because of the gangster lifestyle 2) because minority Americans tend to live in densely populated areas where they have remained segregated by inequality of opportunity and that hate/fear loop.
White people fear that black people hate them. Black people fear that white people hate them. White people also fear that all black people are criminals with poor morals. White people strand minorities in dead end neighborhoods through bad schools and exclusionary real estate practices.
When minorities move into a more upscale neighborhood, as someone in Ferguson said, white people leave. So there is no integration, schooling doesn’t get better and isolation maintains that old hate/fear loop.
Because minority folks are in crowded and segregated neighborhoods it is easier for police in these areas to apprehend offenders. White drug use may be as high as minority drug use but users are in houses that look prosperous and there is more distance between properties. Residential properties are separate from commercial properties. It is not as easy to catch offenders; it is more time-consuming and painstaking investigation must precede arrest. Criminal activities are conducted in different ways in suburban and rural neighborhoods, ways that are not as face-to-face. There is also racial profiling which is so obvious when we see the lopsided result of stop and frisk programs.
We have watched death stalk the men in our minority neighborhoods as they play out that very gangster-thug thing that also empowers them. They end up stalking each other and this has been going on for decades. Even before the recent right wing movement to “beef up” the 2nd Amendment, the gangster culture and thug images combined with the lack of realistic career paths in minority neighborhoods (where students often do not perceive of education as a way out of poverty) and guns brought fear and grief to minority neighborhoods. Young black and other minority people saw rap or hip-hop music as remunerative career options that also provide the “star” with fame and respect. They have seen sports as a path to success. None of the young people in my at-risk classes of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders wanted to be lawyers, doctors, or even teachers.
Knowing that young men were shooting each other in our cities started us again on that loop of fear and hate – our sense of survival tells us to avoid places where people shoot guns. Thus once again isolated, these minorities, who had their own feelings of hate and fear of white folks, found the idea that white folks were afraid and that they would stay away satisfying.
Pressure has been placed on police departments, often with a majority of white officers, to tame the very neighborhoods which the rest of white people avoid, so it has sort of left the cops out there, exposed in their whiteness, and their insistence on “law and order”, (even minority policemen are perceived as acting white). The police often seem to behave like the very thugs they attempt to apprehend in a community that has been given few, if any, reasons to value lawfulness.
The police are human (we assume) and are caught in their own hate/fear loops. Which came first the hate or the fear (on both sides)? This is like asking which came first, the chicken, or the egg? But guns have escalated the whole dynamic, we do know that.
Into an already fraught environment government injected two priorities which they called “wars” 1) The War on Drugs and 2) The War on Terrorism. We are learning that labeling operations as wars may make them take on a much more serious and “weaponized” tenor; may take that very loop of extreme hate and fear that has been percolating under the fault lines in America all along and ratchet it up a few levels.
Next we get to “guns everywhere” and mass shootings, not at all a black/white thing, but another layer of paranoia on top of all the rest.
It is not hard to see why our police are paranoid. I have not been making an actual count, but I have seen an increase in disrespect for the police and attacks on the police resulting in dead or wounded officers.
The militarization of police departments is obviously sanctioned by our government who passed a law making it legal for the police to buy surplus military equipment (and this law was passed before 9/11) and, in fact, provided grant money for buying this paraphernalia. What we are lacking is guidelines for how such equipment can and should be used. Policemen (and women), already on edge due to the rise in violence against the police and the proliferation of citizens with guns, gladly don body armor and other accoutrements of war. No one examines what this does to that old hate/fear loop. I doubt that this equipment was intended for use in minority neighborhoods (although one wonders what the government was thinking this stuff would be used for prior to our being attacked by terrorists).
There is also that aspect that says that if you give “boys” fancy toys of war they will be inspired to “play” with these toys (to our sorrow), especially given that the National Guard troops were unavailable at home when they were called away to war.
We seem to have strayed a long way from the racial divide in America now, but not really, as this past weekend in Ferguson, Missouri attests. We don’t want children or young people, black or white killed in America. Even if (and we are told the officer who shot him knew nothing about this possibility) Michael Brown committed a petty theft, he did not deserve to die. By the time most of us raise a child to be 18 we almost feel that we can breathe a sigh of relief that our child has made it and will become someone who gets to live the life of the adult they would like to be. Lives lost at that moment between childhood and adult life seem especially poignant somehow.
It seems clear that this situation was handled badly all the way around by the Ferguson police, but when authorities withheld information that should have been public it seemed wrong to all of us and anyone who lost a child in this manner and then was treated to this cover-up would have felt the same anger that the people of Ferguson feel.
It looks like we might have reached a tipping point on race in America, a point when minority Americans suggest that they might want to end the fear/hate loop, get that age-old cycle busted apart. They want to look for a new way to de-racial-ize America. We are all people; we have the same DNA. And yet we have that long sad history with each other, a lot of pain and degradation, mostly of black folks at the hands of white folks, but more recently we have that 2-way hate/fear loop. We need to talk. We need to figure this out, otherwise we may end up being two nations (or even more) under God and things could get really unstable and scary. We don’t want to have police who act like an invading army and we have to figure out what to do about that also.
We know how tough it gets to talk about all of this. I have no idea if I have done any justice to this situation – so much has been left out. I would like to see us find ways to use education as a way to heal all of this. We will have to spend some serious money on this. It will take money to make school programs enticing and we should offer free higher education to any of our minority children who we have been failing with our incomplete and often ill-advised programs. Take these young children who grow up with love but perhaps also a bit too much fear and hate, and excite them about solving the problems our world faces, teach them the techniques that will be used to find those solutions, and turn these young folks into resources who will participate in the force of Americans that will go forth into the world to live fulfilling adult lives while also perhaps finding ways to help make our whole wide world a better place.
See my post from July 16, 2013 called The Paradox of our Second Amendment Rights.
This is the view from the cheap seats.
By Nancy Brisson
<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>