AMERICA ON TRIAL
In a Los Angeles Times article, entitled “In Ferguson, a race to be wrong”, Jonah Goldberg writes:
“The events in Ferguson, Mo., have launched a familiar spectacle: the race to be wrong first. … (L)egions of too-often interchangeable activists, commentators and reporters … have convinced themselves that we know exactly what happened, or at least all we need to know. Al Sharpton, with decades of racial ambulance chasing under his belt, insists that ‘America is on trial’ in Ferguson.”
Although I think Goldberg is dead right here, including his characterization of Sharpton, in a way, I agree with Sharpton’s statement. However, I think it’s more accurate to say “Americans are on trial in Ferguson”. No doubt, the implication of Sharpton’s statement is that America is on trial regarding how one ethnic group or members of that group, namely African-Americans, are treated by the rest of the nation. To the contrary, I see Ferguson as a trial; maybe even a final exam, to determine our willingness and thus our ability, to stand together as Americans, regardless of ethnic descent.
CLOSING OLD WOUNDS
Of course, I understand that there is great depth to the reasons behind Americans of African descent insisting on being referred to as African-Americans. The vast majority of Americans can sympathize with this, though it’s obvious that suffering the shameful horror of slavery was the unique experience of the ancestors of most Americans of African descent. With the exception of those descendants of America’s “indigenous peoples”, we are all descendants of people who came from elsewhere. My ancestors included Native Americans, as well as folks who came from Ireland, Scotland and possibly, Eastern Orthodox Jews from Germany. You can bet, like most Americans, my ancestors suffered many injustices in becoming Americans. And yet, I’ve never known of anyone in my family to dwell on that or to use it as justification for hyphenating our identification as Americans or to have any expectation of that meaning we should be treated differently from our fellow-Americans. That seems like it would have been counterproductive. Based on the facts that have been coming out of “America (being) on trial in Ferguson”, I think it’s clear that Americans of African descent continuing to insist on being referred to as African-Americans passed the point of being counterproductive long ago, to become destructive in a potentially terminal way and that its past time for that group and Americans of every ethnic descent, to insist on being referred to, simply, as Americans and to expect to be treated as such. I see this as essential to fulfilling the need identified by Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, as quoted in my article entitled Keeping Our Eyes Above The Waves . He said, “The governor talked about old wounds. This is an old wound. It’s time to stop saying it’s an old wound, and close it for good.”
IN OUR DEFENSE
Just this week, I’ve seen several news programs emphasizing what I alluded to as “the facts that have been coming out of ‘America (being) on trial in Ferguson’”. Two that seem to offer the best summaries of this evidence were the comments of The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley, as a panelist on FNC’s Special Report and the comments of Dr. Ben Carson, as interviewed by FNC’s Martha MacCallum.
Jason Riley’s comments began in response to the host of Special Report, Bret Baier, asking, “What about the President’s comments (on Ferguson) and how this all fits together?” Riley’s response was:
“One thing he said today is he talked about black crime a little bit, which I was happy to see. He said, ‘Black criminals should be prosecuted’, which is helpful. But then he attributed that black criminality, he suggested it stems from poverty or a racist criminal justice system, which is nonsense. The black crime rate in 1960 was lower than it is today. Was there less racism or less poverty in 1960? This is about black behavior. It needs to be addressed head on. It’s about attitudes towards the criminal justice system in these neighborhoods where young black men have no sense of what it means to be a male or what it means to be black and he needs to talk about that head on, not dismiss it as a product of poverty or racism, which is a dodge. We don’t have all the evidence and I’m hesitant to try and litigate this in the press. But there’s also this false narrative being pushed out there, by folks like Michael Eric Dyson and Sharpton and the rest of the hustlers, is that black men live in fear of being shot by cops in these neighborhoods. That too is nonsense. I know something about growing up black and male in the inner-city and it’s not that hard to avoid getting shot by a cop. They pull you over, you answer their questions, you’re on your way. The real difficulty is not getting shot by other black people, if you are a young black man in these neighborhoods and again, that is something we need to talk about more. Cops are not the problem. Cops are not producing these black bodies in the morgues every weekend, in Chicago, in New York, in Detroit and so forth. That’s not cops. Those are other black people shooting black people.”
Of course, none of what’s pointed out by Riley nullifies the need to assure justice in the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson P.D. Officer Darren Wilson. However, it is powerful evidence that, in the case of “America (being) on trial in Ferguson”, things like “black behavior” and “attitudes towards the criminal justice system in these neighborhoods” are at the root of the civil unrest in Ferguson.
Martha MacCallum’s interview of Dr. Carson began with her asking, “What’s your response when you hear Al Sharpton over the weekend? Is he calming things down or is he revving things up in Ferguson?”
Dr. Carson responded by saying, “I think that a lot of what’s going on in Ferguson is actually initiated by outsiders. I think a lot of the looters are opportunists. Ferguson is actually a pretty peaceful and calm place. What I would do, if I were … Sharpton …, I would ask the people who are engaged in the rioting, what exactly is it that you want? What is the message that you are trying to get across? We’re willing to listen, just tell us what it is. I think that would be very revealing. Let’s sort of tap down some of the animosity that’s going on. Maybe we can use this for good. Maybe we can use this to open a dialog about what’s going on in Detroit and Chicago and New Orleans and Washington, D.C.; some of the most violent cities in the world. The United States of America is one of the three top countries for murders in the world. If you extract those four cities, we go down to one of the bottom four. It tells you there’s a lot of stuff going on right here. We need to be looking at these things and asking ourselves, how do we deal with them? And we can.”
Probing further, MacCallum asked, “Where are the voices where that’s concerned?” in response, Dr. Carson said,
“I would like to ask that question too. I had an opportunity to speak with … Sharpton a couple of months ago, at the Whitehouse Correspondents Dinner and said, ‘We want the same kinds of things but we have very different approaches to achieving them. What do you think about a public debate to talk about the various ways that we can get this done?’ He was, initially, enthusiastic about that but uh … the offer still stands. These are things that need to be discussed. We need to bring out in the open what are the raw issues and how do we solve them. We will never do that, if we remain in our separate corners and cast aspersions.”
Although Dr. Carson’s response was incredibly diplomatic, his answer netted out to be that Sharpton was “revving things up in Ferguson” over the weekend. That, of course, begs the question, “Why would he do that?” When he has great opportunities to “… tap down some of the animosity that’s going on … Maybe … use this for good … Maybe … use this to open a dialog about what’s going on in Detroit and Chicago and New Orleans and Washington, D.C.; some of the most violent cities in the world”, why would he, instead, choose to continue “revving … up” “black behavior” and “attitudes towards the criminal justice system in these neighborhoods”? The obvious answer is that there is no personal gain for a “racial ambulance (chaser)” in his encouraging public debate. Encouraging “remain(ing) in our separate corners and cast(ing)aspersions” is his ongoing livelihood.
GOING ON OFFENSE
Thankfully, as the situation in Ferguson has continued to unfold, the chorus of those willing to stand up and say “Enough!”, to Sharpton and those like him, seems to have grown significantly. I pray that this indicates this matter is, finally, reaching a tipping point. One encouraging indication that this may be the case has been seeing residents of Ferguson emerging every morning to clean up the mess left overnight by looters and rioters. These clean up crews has been composed of individual men and women, along with their children, as well as numerous community groups. And, reportedly, these volunteers have had some unexpected help from members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and even from some members of the Michael Brown family. This sort of determination is a must in order for “Americans … on trial” to have a favorable outcome. Beyond that sort of determination, it will require all of us to be willing to courageously join the chorus of those who are standing up and saying “Enough!”, to Sharpton and those like him, as well as to their opportunistic disciples.