I am sure everyone knows about this recent event. There is still much we don't really know about the shooting, but there are enough legitimate questions to question the police action in Ferguson, Missouri. Vox.com has a nice rundown of the story here. The Ferguson police released some images and video showing the dead youth robbing a convenience store, but then admitted that the officer who shot Michael Brown did not know of those allegations and was not stopping him for that reason. The police say that the young man attacked the police officer and even reached for his gun, but several observers note that the young man was retreating from the cops and surrendering when he was shot. One person live tweeted the shooting, and his account is chilling.
One of the problems with racial issues in this country, in my opinion, is the emphasis on denying the past or larger contexts. We are told to accept the basic particulars in each individual case as if they occur in a vacuum. This shooting is a great example. Perhaps the police are telling the right story, and this young man threatened and attacked a police officer. None of that matters if he was retreating--certainly not in my mind, but as I said, there is much for us to learn.
But this occurred in a context, and that context is not a good one for race relations. For all the Supreme Court's conviction that racism is a thing of the past, Ferguson, Missouri is a largely black population run by an almost completely white police force and with only one black person on the city council. Race, of course, tells us nothing about competence or ability, but this is horrible optics. Those white police arrest black residents at a much higher rate (much higher) than whites. The police department handled this badly by militarizing the city and treating those protesting as enemies.
To be fair to Ferguson, Missouri, however, the problem is much broader than this one community. One only has to think of the different responses between the Bundy ranch in Nevada and this community. At Cliven Bundy's side, white separatists pointed sniper rifles at federal troops. That didn't end with tear gas or tanks rolling in. On the contrary, the government backed off. Contrast that with the police shooting an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, or the savage beating of a black grandmother on the side of an interstate. Or that kid shot in Walmart holding a toy gun.
If that isn't bad enough, consider the difference between media portrayal of black victims to white suspects. Right, not just between white suspects and black suspects, but even the portrayals of blacks shot in violent encounters. There is plenty of room for criticism of individual criminal behavior, but that disparity suggests that the activists are not completely wrong when they say that the lives of black men count less than their white counterparts.