One of Michael Brown’s opportunistic goon friends indulging in some looting in the riots that followed his killing by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9th. (Photo courtesy: Time.com)
I have never been there but a colleague, Josh, was born in those parts. Josh says the countryside is beautiful. The north is flat, rolling prairie land and the south, mildly mountainous and the two terrains dissected by the mighty Missouri River. The state in fact lies at the confluence of the three greatest rivers of North America, the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Ohio.
During the early 1800s, it had steam-powered riverboats plying up and down these mighty rivers ferrying timber, grain and also passengers. Singer, songwriter Elton John immortalized it in the number ‘My father’s gun’ in his hit 1970 album ‘Tumbleweed connection’, when he sang “…I’d like ta know when the riverboat sails tanight..”.
Although today the state is geographically a part of the American Midwest, historically it was considered to be a Southern state, probably because of its status as a slave state with the greatest concentration of slaves, before the Civil War.
During the days of the wild west, this patch of land was known as the ‘gateway to the west’ and the starting point for the Pony Express, Santa Fe Trail, and the Oregon Trail. An iconic figure of American history, Daniel Boone (remember the guy with the racoon tail cap?), pioneer, explorer and frontiersman, loved this country so much that he settled down here in the latter part of his life till he died in 1820.
Welcome to the Republican-ruled state of Missouri, 84% white and 11% black and by far one of the most racially segregated states of Amerca. According to Josh, in some parts of Missouri, it feels like you are living in 1820. If you are a reasonably well-off colored person and you decide to move to a predominantly white neighborhood, you’ll find the houses that were advertised for rent, have been suddenly taken. If you are colored and walking down the street minding your business, the chances are you will be arrested for loitering or at least stopped and questioned by a member of the 96% pure white law enforcement agencies. Driving even a 5-year old BMW will get you pulled over for a license and registration check, if you are black.
There are however certain parts of Missouri where the demographics are reversed and African-American citizens are in the majority. Ferguson, with 21500 souls, a suburb of St.Louis, one of Missouri’s major cities, is one such community. The racial composition of this community has undergone a tectonic shift over the past two decades, as can be seen from the consensus figures in the table below –
Year % White % Black
1990 74 25
2000 45 52
2010 29 68
2014 23 73-estimated
Is this amazing transformation a result of polarization and a sign of the American society moving in a sort of retrograde style back to the days of the segregation and the Ku Klux Klan? Is hate and bigotry on the rise?
I always thought America was actually becoming more tolerant and open. Which other white majority country would elect a black President? Or has all that ‘affirmative action’ and ‘reasonable accommodation’ and then the election of a black President somehow actually fueled this polarization, just as my own country of birth, India, saw a rise in caste-based intolerance after the release of the Mandal Commission Report, whose implementation (which was meant to benefit the lower castes) led to massive protests in 1990.
Whatever the case may be, the reality is that Ferguson today is 73% black and there has been no such tectonic shift in the composition of its law enforcement agencies, which is still 95% white. If there ever was a powder-keg waiting to explode, then it surely is Ferguson.
In this milieu has been thrust a thuggish, overweight, 18-year old black youth who, on the afternoon of August 9th, was shot to death by a white policeman, for getting violent after being accosted for walking in the middle of the road. The black man’s attorney admits that, minutes before the shooting, he and a friend had robbed a convenience store and rudely roughed up and verbally threatened the clerk. The CCTV footage says it all.
CCTV footage showing Michael Brown snatching cigarillos and then manhandling the hapless store clerk. After the shooting, his friends described him in media interviews as a “gentle giant who wouldn’t know how to hurt a fly”. Yeah, right. (Video courtesy: Fox5)
Minutes later when the cop accosted them, multiple witnesses confirm seeing a scuffle. This was not some poor little black man being hunted down and slaughtered. This was a huge menacing hood who was assaulting a police officer.
The articles that the black thug had chosen to snatch were just some cigarillos but in my mind it was robbery. The two incidents, the robbery and the shooting a few minutes later, were not connected because the cop did not know that these two men had just robbed the store. But in my mind they are connected – by fate. In my mind it was a no-good hood who got what was coming to him.
The CCTV footage of the robbery leaves no doubt in my mind. It shows a huge man victimizing and violently shoving a little store clerk less than half his size. Has anybody thought to ask that terrified store clerk about how close he came to being mugged or knifed? No. Everybody in America is busy playing race-based politics.
The shooting gave way to protests and rioting that continue as I write, picked up lustily by the international media. In all this there has been a constant cry that the American police are transforming into a ‘military force’ that is using aggression to cow down the populace.
Cops dressed in military fatigues in Ferguson, yesterday. (Photo courtesy: businessinsider.com)
With the proliferation of assault weapons all around America, what exactly is a cop supposed to be armed with? Rubber duckies? I don’t see this kind of indignation when a cop gets killed quelling a riot. Are we witnessing reverse racism starting to happen in a nation where whites may one day start being scared of being white?
Heck America was and is a nation of extremes, but just as I have been suffering from ‘holocaust fatigue’ for some time, given the way Israel has managed to jerk the tears out of the world’s eyes for more than 70 years ( for a genocide that was horrific but by no stretch of imagination the worst mankind has witnessed in the 20th century), in the same manner I think I am now beginning to catch a bout of ‘racism heart-bleed fatigue’.