Jamelle Bouie Gives the Larger Picture

Photo by Steve Rhodes Flickr/creative commons
Photo by Steve Rhodes
Flickr/creative commons

Why the Fires in Ferguson Won’t End Soon

But while calm is hard to predict, one thing is clear: The events in Ferguson—from the shooting to the police response and everything since—are a product of familiar forces and stem from a familiar history. Put another way, the area’s long-bottled racial tension has burst, and it’s difficult to know if it can be resolved, much less contained. — Slate’s Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) 

In a mere 3000 words, Jamelle Bouie schools us in reality versus perception. The article is well worth a full read and understanding because it applies to every other American city. Here are some highlights . . .

Mr. Bouie aptly blends history with current events to put the Michael Brown shooting into a larger context. He forces us to recognize that modern events cannot be considered apart from St. Louis area’s dark history of segregation and police brutality.

An overbearing police presence is a defining feature of life in Ferguson and the rest of North County. Last year in Ferguson, 86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches, and 93 percent of arrests involved blacks, despite the fact that police found more “contraband” stopping white residents than black ones. I spoke to several young men in Ferguson—all teenagers or in their early 20s—who said they were stopped on a weekly basis. At a makeshift Michael Brown memorial, I asked one 20-year-old how many times he’s stopped by police, “About 10 times a month,” he said.

Mr. Bouie takes us back to 100 years when St. Louis became one the first places to create African-American ghettos with boundaries illegal to cross, and sequestered areas where brown and black people were allowed to own homes.

He goes on to offer the best analysis of the facts I’ve seen anywhere, including a documented history of police brutality that breeds fear and disables any notion of serve and protect. He points us to The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (also a must read).

“Blacks were the easiest targets of the police; their rights were the least respected, and they had only a modicum of political influence to hold officers accountable.

Criminality was well-distributed among the ethnic and racial groups of the North, but blacks were disproportionate targets for police. The result was a perception of black criminality despite the lack of clear evidence it actually existed.”

This deep distrust of law enforcement stems from decades of unfair treatment, says Bouie, who suggest this is perhaps what motivates desperate looters. Unless we can turn this tide with new laws, policies, and human rights protections the current state of affairs will continue and there will continue to be police shootings of brown and black men in this country.


I submit that tonight in American there are hundreds of African-American parents forced to sit their young children down to explain how they should watch out for and behave in any encounter with the police. These hard truths rob these children of part of their childhood, making them feel there is something wrong with them in spite of their parents’ attempts to dispel that false and crippling notion.

Congressional panels and other inquiries are being launched to answer the epic questions raised by Michael Brown’s murder: the war on brown and black men in this country, police bias and brutality, systems of mass incarceration in for-profit prisons. It is our job to make sure we find the answers and create new, human, and voluntary associations to replace the coercive systems built on the pain of many for the advantages of the few.

We need to coproduce a world in which no mother ever has to have that conversation with her children.


Also see:
Follow the Money to Ferguson
Solutions Are Available But Will We Pay Attention?
Do Your Part to Break the Cycle
Old Ferguson Makes New Commitments