As I begin writing this, it is 5am and I have spent nearly 12 hours watching around the clock coverage of the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson/Ferguson, MO situation. I thought about writing about it yesterday before the decision came down (I’ve written about it a couple times before, here and here). I know my mother addressed it, saying on Facebook that she expected an indictment because it was taking so long for decision to be released. Her logic was that they were attempting to decide which charges to pursue. I was far more pessimistic about it. My belief was that the delay was due to St. Louis’s attempts to 1) get riot responders into place and 2) delaying the inevitable. Instead of writing a big long rant like I usually do, when I saw the announcement that the decision was expected to be released at 5PM, i just sent the following tweet:
So, riots in Ferguson scheduled for an hour and a half from now… http://t.co/YNhbMQLSYE
— Mav (@chrismaverick) November 24, 2014
That’s actually not as damning as i sounds. See, my expectation was that things were going to go to shit no matter which way the Grand Jury decided. So I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, feared for the worst, and turned on the TV. The decision didn’t come at 5. It didn’t come at 6. By 7, I was completely certain at what it would be. They were absolutely delaying the inevitable. See, if they were going to indict, they would have announced it at 5pm, because it never would have occurred to them that Wilson’s (mostly white) supporters would riot. It occurred to me… but obviously I’m a lot smarter than any of them.
It was after 9pm when prosecutor Robert McCulloch finally took the mic and said… pretty much exactly what I expected him to say.
So yeah, I have problems with the decision. I have problems with the way McCulloch pursued the case. I have problems with the idea that the the Grand Jury looked at the evidence and found that “there was not enough there to take it to trial.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear the rationalization that “they saw all the evidence that we didn’t see,” but that’s just the thing. Grand Juries are not trials. They didn’t need to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. All they had to do was decide whether there was enough evidence there to warrant a trial. That shouldn’t even be a question. Enough evidence has been released in the media to warrant a trial. If Wilson won the trial, such is life. But that’s what trials are for. That’s not what I really want to complain about either.
What I have the real problem with is the rhetoric that has followed the aftermath. I have heard half a dozen Ferguson and St. Louis officials on the news in the last 8 hours saying that they are shocked by the violence of the protests that have happened in the aftermath. They didn’t expect it. Well, you’re fucking idiots. Read my twitter feed, dammit. I gave you five hours notice. And I’m not a legal expert. I’m not a politician. I don’t live in Missouri. I’m just a guy who has lived in this country for the last forty years and I PAID ATTENTION.
Furthermore, I have a problem with the turn the media has taken since about midnight. In accordance with McCullough’s, President Obama’s and the Brown family’s pleas to keep the protests peaceful and non-violent, the media has turned to chastising those who didn’t listen. Complaints that I have heard over the last several hours are:
- They are pointlessly destroying their own community.
- This is just a few bad seeds looking for any chance to riot.
- This is not the way to call attention to the cause.
- All this does is distract from those trying to make change through proper peaceful protests.
- Violent protests and destruction never accomplished anything.
You know what… fuck you!
I can’t decide if they’re being knowingly disingenuous or they’re just idiots. I’ve been watching this stuff for more than half a day and I don’t really care anymore.
Violence does accomplish things. In fact, real cultural change almost never occurs without violence of some kind. Sometimes this means that a Martin Luther King or a Harvey Milk has to be assassinated. Sometimes it means that you need a Rodney King L.A. riot. Tienemen Square. Egypt and the Ukraine. The Luddite Revolts of 1812. The fucking Boston Tea party. People don’t pay attention until something bad happens. And when you’re at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, sometimes the only way you can make enough noise for people to listen is to self-destruct. That or wait for those with power to destroy you.
It would be great if violence was only a last resort. It would be great if when there were violence it were only against the aggressors. It would be great if the world had enough of a pretense of justice that those at the bottom of our social-economic ladder didn’t feel so put upon (whether justly or not) that they feel they have no remaining recourse but to destroy their own neighborhoods. That would be awesome. That won’t happen.
It would be great if something like this would happen and the people would stand in the middle of the street and sing Kumbaya and this would result in no unarmed black teenagers ever being gunned down by police ever again. That would be awesome. That won’t happen.
Do you want to know why? Because if that had happened, if Ferguson had accepted the grand jury’s decision, if they’d gone home to write their congressmen and letters to the editor in disgust, even if they’d stood around and non-violentnly marched and chanted for a couple hours, the news media would have moved on by 11pm to make sure they were discussing how important it is that Alfonso Ribeiro overcame adversity to get a perfect score on Dancing with the Stars. We’d be speculating whether Hilary Clinton or Chris Christie is going to run for president next year. We’d be debating what the hot toy is going to be at the Black Friday sales this week.
I know some people think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.
I’ve been teaching freshmen at Duquesne University for a year and a half now. My students are good kids. Smart, middle-class, mostly white, mostly catholic, good kids. Every time an issue of race comes up in a class discussion I get to listen to many of them… actually most of them… refer to “the old days” back when racism still existed. They really don’t see it. They’re completely unaware. It’s not that they’re bad. It’s not that they’re trying to ignore it. They just are completely unaware that racial discrimination exists at all in this country. They don’t remember the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and that was only a year ago! They don’t see racism. They have no idea who Leon Ford is. Do you know who Leon Ford is? Leon Ford is a black man who was shot by Pittsburgh police in a traffic stop in 2012. He was left paralyzed and charged with assaulting the officers who shot him. He was ultimately acquitted but will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. That was two fucking months ago. HERE! And I’d be amazed if more than 2 of my 22 current students have any idea who he is.
It is now 6am. Ferguson is still burning and the news is still covering it. Yes, they’re covering the issue for the wrong reason, but at least they are covering it. They repeat the headline every fifteen minutes. And every single time they say “all of this because a grand jury refused to indict white police officer Darren Wilson after he fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.” Maybe if they say it enough times people will remember.