Searching online for scraps of information about the tragedy in Ferguson, MO, one thing keeps becoming increasingly clear to me.
What the police force there seem to be seeking is not justice and is not the law. It is order and control. That search for control will not be satisfied without total capitulation and obedience.
No one, no citizen in this country, owes total capitulation and obedience to authorities. Not to the governor, not to the mayor, and not to the police.
Yet what we keep seeing, over and over, are demands to obey and to submit to beatings or risk death. No one should have to explain how wrong this is, but here we are, yet again, attempting to describe another young black man’s actions, how he didn’t steal candy, he didn’t disobey, and he didn’t deserve to die.
Are the Ferguson police going to make the claim that stealing candy is punishable by death? Will they say that people walking on the asphalt must be shot? Is a refusal to listen to an unreasonable request grounds for ending someone’s life? Or that simply not moving to the sidewalk quickly enough is a good reason to be killed?
So far, even with no evidence Brown did any of those things, those are the stories, the official justifications, for this man’s murder.
And so, in the face of outrage and anger, the authorities in Ferguson have doubled down. They have brought out their teargas, their armor, their ridiculous (and unconstitutional, in my view) military hardware. They are now demanding total capitulation from the entire town, extending the unreasonable demands from an officer to one young man that he riddled with bullets, to unreasonable demands of the populace.
The Ferguson authorities are clearly treating this situation as a war, and their officer as a victim in it. They are rallying, embracing and extending the killer’s violence to the entire community.
We see this behavior in our movies, historical dramas that show how a black American’s insistence on bring treated as a human have angered mobs into revenge against anyone who looks like them. The movies portray those angry faces as rubes and relics of the past, ignorant brutes that have been drummed out of decent society. But that’s false.
They’re still with us. Some are still government officials, some are still police. But most are the voters who reassure themselves that their lawmen and leaders wouldn’t lash out violently, even lethally, because they felt slighted. After all, that’s in the past, there’s accountability now, right?
Obviously not. Just as Americans did 100 years ago, most of the population looks on, if they look at all, with a smugness that justice is served directly by the police and vigilantes to those that deserve it. Most of the population still witnesses the lynchings, and looks away, or even smiles and applauds. After all, subservience is what this country has always demanded from anyone who is black; it’s what the United States was built on.
That’s what we’re seeing in Ferguson now, the same demands we see in those old newspaper reports of black neighborhoods burned because a resident may or may not have insulted a white lady. It’s the same demands we see in those grainy photos of smiling faces milling around a lynching victim, the same demands of obedience or death.
As a nation, we’ve changed. Our laws and our attitudes have changed for the better. But that foul and ugly history of ours is with us still, ordering total capitulation upon threat of death, and rallying violent masses to defend killers, by extending their threats and violence wider and wider still.
Edited to add: This and other posts on this site refer to stealing “candy,” since that was the original story from Ferguson PD, and was the police justification of a suspected crime at the time this was written. The story was later changed to cigarillos.