I’ve been avoiding the Ferguson kerfluffle. It has every demographic element fated to incite hostility. Count the red flags. Is it an area that’s southern, poor, two thirds black, and urban? Yep. Was the person shot either trying to surrender or trying to kick a cop’s ass? Yep. Was he a choir boy or a serial killer? Yep. And of course, was the person who shot him white? Yep. America in 2014 is not a place where urban masses are prone to react intelligently to such stimuli. As predictably as night follows day, a shitstorm of angry has ensued. Little, if any, good will come of it. I tuned out.
I was pretty successful too. Several days of stupid came and went without darkening my door. Then one day I was having a conversation with a good friend and he brought up the topic. I was trapped!
My friend pointed out things had gone from bad to worse. I’d presumed as much without examining the details. Things like this progress along a spectrum. As far as I could tell it was far beyond a Maine township circulating a strongly worded petition but not quite approaching 1992 LA. My friend said it was bad news and implied I should be paying attention.
It was mentioned that the President chose to insert himself in this weighty matter. Lately Federal action in a local (city level?) police matter hasn’t racked up a good track record. Particularly when a President uses local human pain to score national political points it’s a very bad thing indeed. Rather than “tut tut” I made light of it. “Of course he did.” I laughed. “His bread is buttered by racial friction.” It didn’t escape my mind that this is a mid-cycle election year and nothing would help the party of D like a big ugly urban riot and the press’ favorite superhero saving the day. He probably has a cape in the closet for just such a purpose. Never one to quit inserting my foot in my mouth I added more. “Let me guess. He’s having a beer summit?”
“This is a big deal.” My friend complained.
“Sure it is.” I snarked. “Let me guess; the press makes out like the guy who got shot is a cute innocent kid. They’ve got a photo of him looking just like Michael Jackson when he was in the Jackson Five.”
I wasn’t done. “…they claimed he was a choir boy and everyone and their dog loved him. But now some blogger has come up with a Facebook selfie that the press miraculously missed. Maybe he’s posing with a pound of cocaine and a Glock stuffed in his shorts. Plus he hijacked a bus load of nuns last week. Am I right or what?”
“No! The police, they’re going apeshit.” My friend was serious.
“So they fired up the racial unrest grievance machine right?” I envisioned a giant dollar sign projected against gloomy clouds like the bat signal. Jessie Jackson springs to action and flies out in his Learjet to fan the flames in honor of folks who’ll never even fly in a Boeing. “So has Jessie Jackson arrived yet?” I laughed. “Wait. Isn’t Jessie dead? His son is in jail. Who’s left?”
“Things are getting out of control…”
“Oh wait Al Sharpton is around right?” I was having a grand time. “Let me guess Al baby wants to have ‘a conversation’.”
“Meanwhile, in the name of justice people are stealing televisions and burning cars? Are Korean shopkeepers patrolling with…”
“Shut up dammit! The cops are acting crazy.” My friend was having none of my rudeness.
“Uh huh.” I chuckled. “You know I’m all for rioters getting kicked in the balls.”
“Don’t taze me bro. Ha ha ha. I’m not buying it. This time the cops have me in their pocket.” I was just having a grand time.
“You’re being an asshole! This is a civil liberties issue!” My friend barked.
This brought my humor to a standstill. I’m all about civil liberties. I love freedom. It’s a bigger deal to me than just about anything else. Yet here I was cheering for cops which may (or may have not) have shot someone who may or may not have earned that fate. Since when do I make rosy assumptions about competence and a reluctance to run amok on the part of the boys in blue? Was this an internal inconsistency in my personal philosophy?
I seethe about a flash grenade in a baby’s crib so why should I grant the benefit of the doubt in Ferguson? Why am I incensed that the ATF toasted a bunch of Jesus Freaks in Texas but perfectly happy if they stomp on presumptive rioters in Missouri? My friend was suggesting the locals were acting like authoritarian duouchebags. Why should I doubt that? I’d simply assumed the Feds would make it worse. Throw in a few Cartman jokes (“respect my authority!”) and I’d somehow sided with a group that has a tendency to kick down doors and shoot the wrong person. What had I done?
The conversation ended. I felt thoroughly cowed.
I thought about reading all the news about Ferguson and getting to the bottom of it. I refused. Frankly there’s too much bullshit and I just don’t want to deal with it. Also Al Sharpton was involved and listening to that guy is like stepping in something that’ll stink for a week. As for Obama, perhaps he did a glorious soliloquy or perhaps he ate his teleprompter while golfing but none of that matters. I just don’t feel like parsing the delta between whatever the hell he will do from whatever the hell he said. Besides, what he’s likely to do is more or less nothing. Ask the Ukrainians. Who’s got time for all that swimming against the tide of misinformation?
Further, none of this changes the fact that I’d made a knee jerk generalization that was cynical and mean. Federal involvement doesn’t always make things worse. I’d been wrong to glibly dismiss what might very well be local cops acting like jerks and when the local po po act like jerks it’s the Feds that are supposed to punch ’em in the groin. Maybe they were doing their job?
So how should I rectify my verbal missteps without shoving my face into Ferguson? I had an idea. In the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness I decided to seek out and post a picture that’s unlike the nihilism of today’s age. I shouldn’t let cynicism take root and my friend called me on it. Good for him. The Federal Government can indeed do good. Here’s a picture from when staid boring President Eisenhower used the National Guard, guns and all, to do the right thing.
This has nothing to do with Ferguson. Nor does it mean that the Feds are guaranteed to be on the side of angels this time. It has everything to do with not letting 2014’s panic du jour cloud the long term good that’s out there. Mea culpa. I was wrong.