A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

August 17, 2015

Personal Reflections on Ferguson, One Year Later

     Yesterday, my sister texted me a photo of my nephew, a police officer in St. Louis County, Missouri; a photo that has appeared in countless newspapers.  He is standing with fellow officers in riot gear during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri on the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown -- a death that has polarized that community and all of America.
     It is one thing to view that image as an American concerned over the racial violence that has spread across this nation; and quite another to view the steely gaze of a loved one who is standing for law and order, and putting his life on the line to protect the community and innocent citizens from further destruction.
     I guess I thought as long as I could not distinguish him from among the policemen whose images have become part of the disturbing montage of rioting and mayhem, I could pretend that he was safe and far removed from harm.  But there he was, his eyes and features clearly distinguishable through the glare of the lights on his helmet's safety shield.  He had often texted me not to worry, he wasn't assigned to that area and he was stationed in other parts of the metroplex.  But now I know that to be an effort to calm the fears of his anxious aunt.
     So now the turbulent and unstable state of race relations are up close and personal.  After a long year of turmoil and genuine efforts to change the conditions in Ferguson that led to this point, I am desperately looking for signs that positive change is happening.
     Admittedly, there has always been an uneasy relationship between the citizenry of neighborhoods like Ferguson (and nearby East St. Louis, close to where I spent much of my childhood) and the police, whose job often seemed to be about keeping the violence from spilling over into the surrounding middle class suburbs.  It is easy to blame the disparity between education and job opportunities among the races; all of which seemed to grow worse after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal.
     It has been 51 years since this law was passed.  The Civil Rights Act was declared the most wide-ranging civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, nearly a century prior.  So what happened?  Why are we still seeing the imbalance in education, skills, and upward mobility in the black communities? Why is there still a perception that more crime is committed against blacks by white authority figures,  while statistics are ignored that suggest black on black crime is the primary cause of death among young blacks?  Why, as an article in The National Review points out, do we, as a nation not consider that "the disproportionate criminality among the black population is the reason that the police are deployed in much higher numbers in black neighborhoods, where they are trying to save innocent lives. There are thousands of law-abiding inner-city blacks who live by conventional values and who need protection from criminals. Only the police are willing to provide that protection."  Doesn't that indicate that "black lives matter" to them, too?
This photo of police officers in Trinity, TX went viral
     Are the police perfect?  Of course not!  And there will inevitably be incidents where bad cops prevail, but let me ask you this .... there are honorable black men who become police officers; is it the authority of the police department that is so despised, or just the particular skin color of the officer?  Why are we, in the 21st Century, still judging people by the color of their skin... and why is it this racial prejudice always one-sided?
     I am no social or cultural anthropologist, but it isn't hard for me to see the correlation between the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the subsequent War on Poverty, that introduced the Job Corps and Head Start (both designed to help disadvantaged youth to combat poverty and raise their standard of living), and perhaps the most damaging and divisive legislation of my lifetime -- the Food Stamp Act of 1964.  Does is strike anyone else as antithetical that these two forms of legislation were signed back to back in 1964?
      Were these components of LBJ's dream of a "Great Society" merely empty promises, that were really designed to counter any forward advancement made by the Civil Rights Act?  I know that sounds cynical and conspiratorial, but it just seems odd that at the same time that the disadvantaged segment of our society were given the keys to economic and social equality, they were also given a ball and chain called "Welfare" that enticed them to avoid employment, and kept them indebted to the politicians who controlled those welfare checks.
     And it all leads to Ferguson, Missouri. As Breitbart.com reports, there have been some positive changes .... "The city has a new police chief, a new city manager and a new municipal judge — all blacks who replaced white leaders. All Ferguson officers [now] wear body cameras. The city council has new members, too, several of whom are black. And the business district that was at the center of last year’s sometimes-violent protests is slowly rebuilding."
     It appears that this proud community is engaging with those who govern them, and both sides are listening to each other.  Ferguson's leadership is now reflective of the demographics of the community.  At the time of the Brown shooting, just three of Ferguson’s 53 officers were black. The department now has five African-Americans among a total of 50 officers, including the newly appointed interim chief, and has four budgeted positions still to fill.  Nearby West Florissant Avenue, a scene of pillaging and destruction one year ago, is poised to get $37 million in upgrades. The improvement plan is expected to include bricked sidewalks, bicycle lanes, stylish lampposts and landscaping. Those are the positive signs of change and hope.
     But the prejudice and doubt among the community is harder to transform.  It's going to take more than millions of dollars of cosmetic changes to erase the mistrust.  The peaceful protests of Ferguson residents did not fall on deaf ears, and I pray that continued efforts to heal this damaged city will be successful.  It remains to be seen if outside agitators and those who stand to profit, both politically and socially, will fail in their efforts to make the race division permanent.
     One year later, some progress has been made -- and while the peace is holding, it is not guaranteed.  I pray that Ferguson can become a model for other cities who sincerely want to see improvement in race relations, and foster mutual respect between law enforcement and the community.  As a nation, it is imperative that we succeed in this mission.  And as a concerned aunt, I would like to be able to sleep better at night.

Romans 12:9-10    "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;"

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