We’ve Learned Nothing (A Rant)

The one year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown brought protests back to Ferguson, Missouri.  They were peaceful and, like the protests following the killing, were met by a wall of police in black military garb, armed to the teeth, ready to “restore calm” at the end of guns.

Looting broke out, having nothing to do with the protests per se, but since the faces were black, the media wrapped it together with the protests, because all blacks are the same no matter whether they’re behaving peacefully, so as not to offend distant pale sensibilities, or violently, confirming the prejudice against them.

Shots were fired and a black teen hit the ground.  The cops explained the shooting, based on a story only they can verify, that they returned fire.  Whether the kid they hit shot at them is a matter of faith in cops. The cops say so, and there is no one to question it.

Others continued their protest, blocking the steps to the federal courthouse where all that’s been learned about how blacks in Ferguson were subjugated, used as a cash machine by a white minority which owned the jail cells, did nothing to help. It’s a federal offense to impede the stairway to justice, so they hauled in black activists and gave them summons to come back after everybody has gotten bored and take their smacks when no one gives a damn anymore. [Edit:And the journalists covering Ferguson, like Wesley Lowery of the WaPo and Ryan Reilly of the HuffPo, too.

Sweet words were uttered by the Department of Justice, condemning flagrant racism in Ferguson, and then everyone walked away, proud of their fine work, leaving the black people of Ferguson to live the same shitty lives as they had before.  Even those sympathetic to the cause of Ferguson prefer official solutions, trusting the peaceful and systemic trick of making the noise of change without actually doing anything. Usually, they give themselves an award afterward for being such good white people to the poor black people. The black people never get invited to the party.

So what have we learned?  Not a fucking thing.  The cops responded with the same excessive display of force, and use of force, as always, because force is so much easier than thought.  And the adoration of calm, peaceful and law-abiding, without regard to the circumstances and motivations giving rise to the protest, plays well to the white public.  We hate it when blacks get all angry and disagreeable.  Jeez, just because cops keep killing unarmed black people? That’s no reason to upset our happy, peaceful lives. It’s not like they’re doing it to us.

Oh wait. That’s happening too.  Except white people feel no compulsion to identify by race, so if they kill a white guy, it’s not as if it touches our white lives.  And it happens to red lives too, kinda like blacks, but they’re not even on our radar, so cops can kill them at will and nobody except a handful of casino janitors with funny names will give a damn.

But forget what the cops learned, the politicians learned, the officials learned. They never seem to learn much of anything, because their focus is on enforcing their beloved order by sending out the MRAP with a 50 caliber machine gun atop to remind the groundlings who has the juice to make their command stick.

Even good people, when they put on the official hat, suddenly convert to mindless rule lovers, who believe with all their heart that black lives are worth the rules being obeyed.  Society will collapse if we don’t enforce the rules. Never mind that society has collapsed for the black people they kill.

But we have learned one thing, though the lesson was staring us in the eyes long before Michael Brown was lying dead in the street in Ferguson.  We learned that we don’t learn.  The Watts Riots began 50 years ago today.  And nothing has changed.

Many public officials and local residents were “shocked” by the showing of black anger. Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr. flew home from vacation immediately, informing reporters that “nobody told me there was an explosive situation in Los Angeles.” The journalist Theodore White wrote that blacks in Los Angeles were “treated better by their white fellow citizens than in any other city in the nation.”

But what white Angelenos found surprising, blacks knew all too well. For decades, civil rights activists had challenged Los Angeles’s pervasive racial injustice, even as the news media failed to call city leaders to account for unequal schools, police brutality and housing and job discrimination. In the wake of Watts, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cast the surprise of public officials as dishonest.

That’s fifty years ago. And today.  And we watch, some ranting (as I am) or “tsking” as so many others are at how those blacks are just a bunch of criminals, confirming the belief that whatever problems they have are their own damn fault (don’t want to get shot by the cop? Don’t commit crimes, you criminals), most remaining silent.

Such silences are comfortable. It is easier to cast people as “thugs” than to grapple with the ways we as a society haven’t listened and wouldn’t change. It is easier to frame the situation as regrettable but outside our control (the actions of certain bad cops) than to grapple with our responsibility in maintaining an unjust criminal justice system. In doing so, we cast these tragedies as discrete incidents — and escape our larger social responsibility.

Will protests change things? They haven’t yet. Will bullets change things? Only to create more violence. Will violence change things? It only serves to confirm the worst prejudice. Will pleas about our “larger social responsibility” change things? Only if you think police bullets are stopped by clueless whiny narcissists pretending hurtful words are worse than a boot connecting with a guy’s face.

I have no solution. No doubt some fool will inform us of his Menckian answer to a problem that has proven intractable to the best and worst minds among us in a half dozen words. But that the problem exists and hasn’t been solved leads to one inexorable conclusion: we have learned nothing, and maybe we never will.

I can’t blame any protester in Ferguson for doing whatever they feel they need to do to make change happen. If the alternative was to end up dead in the street, what do they have to lose? And how you or I feel about it is irrelevant. It won’t be us lying in a pool of blood, so we don’t get a vote.  And even if it is us one day, we wouldn’t care enough to lift a finger until it’s too late.

41 thoughts on “We’ve Learned Nothing (A Rant)

  1. phroggie

    Note to editor, no need to publish this. Just hire a dammed editor, and stick a bunch of ads up to pay for it. 🙂 I’ll reserve my comments on the rest of this post until after I’ve left St. Louis in a week…

    “*They* black people never get invited to the party.” These, those, or, umm, their. The context makes the correct word challenging, unless you’re talking jive like an Airplane! nun all of a sudden.

    “Jeez, just because cops *keeping* killing unarmed black people?” Keep, or keep on.

    “Society will collapse *is* we don’t enforce the rules.” If.

    “…before Michael Brown was lying dead in the street…” Laying. I wish that he had time to lie about this to someone. 🙁

    “It won’t be us *lying* in a pool of blood, so we don’t get a vote.” See above. Lying: the telling of lies, or false statements; untruthfulness.

    “…we wouldn’t care enough to *life* a finger until it’s too late.” Lift.

    1. SHG Post author

      You are absolutely right. I just write, and pretty quickly I might add, so I really need an editor to clean up my typos. But the only way I can justify hiring an editor to clean up my typos is for you, and other readings, to pay me to read SJ. I think $10 a month will do. So pay up.

          1. Random reader

            That’s because you honestly think you write for yourself and not the readers. But there may be readers that feel that your contribution to our knowledge is worth more than nothing. Lord knows, the hugs aren’t what bring me back here.

            1. SHG Post author

              Another good epitaph: “His contributions were worth more than nothing.” You are very kind.

              And what’s wrong with my hugs? Oh wait.

      1. Ehud Gavron

        My English grammar is perfect, despite this being my adopted second language.

        I’ll happily volunteer to stand behind you and edit.


        1. SHG Post author

          Ironically, a dear young man named David edits me, and English is his second language as well. But as he’s a busy fellow, he gets to me when he can, and I have to wait until he finds the time. Of course, I deeply appreciate anyone editing me, and appreciate anyone willing to put in the effort to correct my typos, etc.

      1. SHG Post author

        I confuse the two all the time. My problem is that I care more about the point than the word. I should do better.

    1. SHG Post author

      Well, let’s try to think this through. It wasn’t DeRay or Netta doing the looting, but it was someone else with black skin, and since most of the protesters had black skin and they all look alike anyway, it must be the protesters who did the looting.

      Or, we don’t know who did the looting, so we can’t attribute blame even if they had black skin, because each one of them is an actual individual human being, but we can rest assured that some monumental asshole will ask the question you did.

      1. Charles

        So if the issue is lack of identification and “looting broke out” allows for those two possibilities, the former of which is insidious, why not just say that an unidentified person looted a store in the area?

          1. Charles

            No such intentions, just an observation. Had I seen the comment thread below before replying, there would have been nothing more to say. This gnat has been strained.

  2. REvers

    It’s tough to learn anything when you’re not paying attention, and there’s just too much going on to be concerned with this issue. Once we find out how that new brand of spray tan is working out for the Kardashians, then maybe we can look into race issues.

  3. Mike C

    I concur. I would only add that the people of Ferguson are at the mercy of numb•scull macho police forces and opportunistic criminals who each use the other to justify themselves.

  4. Teddy

    “Or, we don’t know who did the looting, so we can’t attribute blame even if they had black skin, because each one of them is an actual individual human being, but we can rest assured that some monumental asshole will ask the question you did.”

    So it’s important to recognize that all of us are individual human being, unless its white people in which case you can use a broad brush because we’re monolithic? Your logic collapses on itself and leaves the reader with nothing but the insane ranting of a hypocrite. The monumental asshole is you, SHG

        1. SHG Post author

          Which precludes any discussion of any subject that doesn’t individually discuss every person on every side of an issue. Brilliant.

          1. Teddy

            No, it simply means that stereotyping all protesters as looters or all white people as whatever is flawed

            1. SHG Post author

              Yeah, I already got your point, that I’m a monumental asshole for stereotyping white people. Your concern is duly noted and I owe all white people an apology. Now you’re done.

            2. Teddy

              Of course I’m done. You’re incapable of withstanding any intrusion to your tiny bubble of confirmation bias. Dissent must be silenced.

            3. SHG Post author

              Don’t whine, my little butthurt commenter. I’ve posted your comments and they’re here for all to admire. Not only is your “dissent” not silenced, but you (who I might add didn’t have the balls to use your full name) get the benefit of my soapbox to call me a momumental asshole so that every person who reads it will have the opportunity to appreciate your position. Silenced? Hardly. You’re as prominent as everyone else, including me.

              Did you think I’m somehow obligated to bend to your brilliance?

            4. Sgt. Schultz

              So “silenced” doesn’t mean that SHG didn’t publish your critical comments (as he obviously did), but that he didn’t agree that you were right and he was wrong, and give you a pretty balloon? Seems legit.

            5. Teddy

              If you’ve concluded that I’m butthurt then you’re mistaken but I respect the part about sharing your soapbox. Point taken on that.

              Youre not obligated to bend to my brilliance anymore than I am obligated to bend to yours. It took a few posts but we have found some common ground.

              My point wasn’t that you’re an ass for stereotyping white people. I don’t really care if you do that. My point was that you strongly object to stereotyping protesters as looters (“all blacks are the same”) yet you immediately turn around and stereotype all whites. That’s a significant flaw in the application of standards and I questioned it.

              Turning it into a hashtag of notallwhites is a pretty juvenile response to a legitimate question. Maybe you save your more advanced thinking for your clients?

            6. Teddy

              Sgt, I misread the “now your done” comment. It was my mistake. As acknowledged above, SHG has been a gracious host despite our disagreement. May I still have the pretty balloon?

  5. Brennan

    “Except white people feel no compulsion to identify by race, so if they kill a white guy, it’s not as if it touches our white lives. ”

    I must be misunderstanding what you mean by this sentence, as, read literally, it contradicts my understanding of America past and present. You could argue that identification as “white” is fraying, but it certainly isn’t gone.

    1. David M.

      If the police kill a white person, we don’t feel threatened by virtue of sharing the dead person’s skin color. Don’t know about you, but that’s absolutely true for me.

    2. SHG Post author

      You’ve misapprehended the point. When cops kill a white guy, whites don’t take to the street calling for the end of police brutality. We don’t tend to share a racial connection to the killing (as a nod to Teddy, #notallwhiteguys, though to most of the world, this is inherently understood), unless it touches our lives personally.

      Outside of white supremacists, most white people take our skin color for granted.

  6. Monitorsmost

    To be fair, Tyrone Harris could verify the story that the police shot him after he opened fire on the police officers. Not likely, but possible.

  7. The Real Peterman

    I wish I knew what was happening with policing in this country. Some say it’s the ex-soldiers, trigger happy from tours in war zones, and some say those guys have the least to prove and are thus the least violent. Maybe cameras are the answer, but they weren’t for Sandra Bland. As a man I admire once said, what’s going on?

    1. SHG Post author

      Not only are there more/other problems, but the assumption that there is a problem is misguided. It’s a system. Lots of moving papers, many of which make perfect sense on their own, but don’t work with others. Fixing one doesn’t mean the rest suddenly work fine. There is no answer, and people need stop thinking in such binary terms.

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