It has never been about race. It has always been about money. Slaves were currency: currency with a mind of its own that had to be held in check by means of brutality. When slavery ended, brutality remained in force, powered by resentment for the devaluing of the currency, habit and by unhealthy wrong-minded views of entitlement, rechanneled to form new exploitative structures that were handed on, generation to generation, structures that have been and remain effective in insuring that the offspring of freed slaves, and (what has become increasingly clear) anyone not part of the power structure, perpetually draw the short end of the stick in the zero sum game that is our money-centric society. This system, codified at the local, state and national level, makes losers of us all, including those in power, though it may take some education for them to understand their loss.
One contributor on the GoFundMe site for Officer Darren Wilson praised his efforts as an “animal control officer”. This attitude is an atavism from the time of slavery borne of fear of what the caged slave would do if he got free. Policing of the African American throughout this country is apparently and sadly still based on keeping the “ex-slave” caged. What the white power structure fails to understand is that true freedom from the tyranny of a justice system that harasses, arrests, and incarcerates young black American men in wild disproportion to the rest of the population would yield a more peaceful, prosperous and loving society for everyone.
What happened to the positive archetype of the policeman as ally and protector? First and foremost, police officers should practice methods of self-restraint and peaceful resolution of conflict. They should be leaders in non-violence. Only when they fully understand this principle can they fulfill the role of hero.
I am mystified that in the NY Times poll of Aug. 21 64% of the people queried said they didn’t know enough to say whether or not the shooting was justified. Just 25% stated that it was unjustified. Really? We have at least three eyewitnesses who saw the officer gun Michael Brown down after he had raised his hands in the universal gesture of surrender. If that does not constitute murder, what does?
Why go all the way back to slavery to explain what happened to Michael Brown? Because this nation has never really healed from that event. It has never fully taken responsibility for the devastating consequences of slavery. Civil rights legislation was never embraced by the South, but was won over their vociferous and violent objection. It has caused the South to move ever more rightward, and the right wing distortions we see going on about us can be traced directly back to resentment and wrong mindedness stemming from the loss of slavery.
Republican gerrymandering has twisted and distorted our political reality. It has resulted in the promulgation and acceptance of ever more wild and irresponsible notions about the role of government, which in turn hamstrings us from dealing with real and pressing problems.
The dialogue that needs to be entered into is the one will enable us to understand and overcome the obstacles to full and equal participation of each and every American in the benefits and responsibilities of our society. Inequality, which is codified and institutionalized in our political and economic structure, needs to be rooted out not just in the macro sense, as instituted by the (eroded) Civil Rights Act, but it has to be rooted out on the micro level as well. True overcoming will still require fundamental and revolutionary change. The Civil Rights Movement did not end with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. In many more subtle ways, we are all still at the beginning.