Liv­ing black in Fer­gu­son — be­fore and after the furor

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION -

Ed­i­tors’ Note: This col­umn is the first in a se­ries about the con­tin­ued preva­lence of Jim Crow in this land.

In the op-ed “Black Town, White Power” by Jeff Smith (The New York Times, Aug. 18), we learn that, since 2010, the St. Louis sub­urb of Fer­gu­son is 67 per­cent black and 29 per­cent white.

But “ma­jor­i­ty­black Fer­gu­son has a vir­tu­ally all­white power struc­ture: a white mayor; a school board with six white mem­bers and one His­panic; which re­cently sus­pended a young black su­per­in­ten­dent who then re­signed; a City Coun­cil with just one black mem­ber, and a 6 per­cent black po­lice force.”

And through­out St. Louis County, “with pri­mar­ily white po­lice forces that rely dis­pro­por­tion­ately on traf­fic ci­ta­tion rev­enue, blacks are pulled over, cited and ar­rested in num­bers far ex­ceed­ing their pop­u­la­tion share, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port from Mis­souri’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.”

“In Fer­gu­son last year, 86 per­cent of stops, 92 per­cent of searches and 93 per­cent of ar­rests were of black peo­ple -- de­spite the fact that po­lice of­fi­cers were far less likely to find con­tra­band on black driv­ers (22 per­cent ver­sus 34 per­cent of whites). This wors­ens in­equal­ity, as strug­gling blacks do more to fund lo­cal gov­ern­ment than rel­a­tively af­flu­ent whites.”

More­over, over­looked in the con­cen­tra­tion on Fer­gu­son, racial di­vi­sions and ba­sic in­equal­ity re­main common across this coun­try.

With Pres­i­dent Obama ap­par­ently now be­ing awak­ened to con­se­quences of na­tional mil­i­ta­riza­tion of po­lice -- although this has been go­ing on for years within his ad­min­is­tra­tion -what prospects are there for a fur­ther and deep look by Congress and 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates at the in­creas­ing racial power di­vi­sions in this land on many fronts even if there comes to be some mean­ing­ful change in mil­i­ta­riz­ing our po­lice?

In view of the hol­low na­ture of Obama’s “lead­er­ship” and the con­tin­u­ally frac­tured civil war in Congress, how much mean­ing­ful change is there likely to be in ei­ther po­lice mil­i­ta­riza­tion in this dig­i­tal age un­der na­tional ex­ec­u­tive power -- or in ad­vanced Jim Crow across the land?

In “Un­der Obama, racial hope but no change” (, Aug. 24), Ed­ward-Isaac Do­vere writes: “Six years ago, Barack Obama’s elec­tion was go­ing to usher in a new era of racial un­der­stand­ing.”

He then quotes Na­tional Ur­ban League Pres­i­dent Marc Mo­rial:

“Things got some­what bet­ter be­cause the coun­try felt proud of it­self for elect­ing him. But I cer­tainly think they’re worse than they were on Jan. 20, 2009. There was a sense that the coun­try had turned a cor­ner. I think to­day there may be a sense that the progress has been a prover­bial step for­ward and two steps back.”

Aside from whether po­lice mil­i­ta­riza­tion sig­nif­i­cantly de­creases, Do­vere con­tin­ues, “The eco­nomic di­vide, ac­cen­tu­ated by the re­ces­sion,

COM­MEN­TARY has only widened the racial di­vide -the num­ber of African-Americans who lost their own houses dur­ing the mort­gage cri­sis, among other fac­tors, ap­pears to have done more to shape where race re­la­tions stand than hav­ing the first AfricanAmer­i­can in the White House.”

More­over, “in 1950, the work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion among young black men was 65.2 per­cent. In 2012, it was 35.7 per­cent.

“That’s not helped by many neigh­bor­hoods -- Fer­gu­son in­cluded -- re­main­ing ei­ther (largely) white or black, with lit­tle in­ter­ac­tion be­tween them.”

And where the sources of power are clearly mostly one-sided.

Also quoted in the Politico col­umn is Tom Perez, la­bor sec­re­tary and for­mer Jus­tice Depart­ment head of the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion:

“There are so many com­mu­ni­ties where you still have per­sis­tent pat­terns of seg­re­ga­tion. It leads to a lack of un­der­stand­ing and that is un­for­tu­nate and that can have ill con­se­quences.”

Lack of un­der­stand­ing of­ten re­sults from those in power not giv­ing a damn for those with­out.

How many 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are likely to say any­thing about this ex­ten­sive racial seg­re­ga­tion? Dur­ing his three (!) terms as New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who prided in call­ing him­self “the ed­u­ca­tion mayor,” never once pub­licly men­tioned the ex­tent to which New York City’s pub­lic schools are largely racially seg­re­gated. I noted that of­ten in my Vil­lage Voice col­umn, but not a word from the bil­lion­aire mayor to this day.

More­over, the Ruther­ford In­sti­tute’s John White­head in “The Fi­nal Nail in the Cof­fin: The Death of Free­dom in our Schools” (Aug. 26) un­der­lines again (af­fect­ing many but not ex­clu­sively black stu­dents), “Zero tol­er­ance poli­cies, which pun­ish all of­fenses se­verely, no mat­ter how mi­nor (con­di­tion­ing) young peo­ple to steer clear of do­ing any­thing that might be con­sid­ered out of line, whether it’s point­ing their fin­gers like a gun, draw­ing on their desks or chew­ing their gum too loudly.”

And, of course, in the schools, there are “metal de­tec­tors, surveil­lance cam­eras, mil­i­ta­rized po­lice ... ran­dom searches, sense­less ar­rests, jail time, the list goes on.” We are in­deed ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a po­lice state -but not en­tirely. We still have a First Amend­ment that can be aimed at our gov­ern­ment, and we still vote. Also, as White­head says, “par­ents with kids re­turn­ing to school” should say some­thing, and, as Americans, do some­thing!

As Jus­tice Wil­liam Bren­nan of­ten told me: “Our framers knew lib­erty is a frag­ile thing, so don’t give up!”

Obama proudly brags: “I have a pen!” so he can do what he wants by ex­ec­u­tive or­der. You also have a pen (or how­ever you vote, not only for the pres­i­dency, but for Congress and state and lo­cal of­fices). If you haven’t al­ready given up, take this coun­try back from your gov­ern­ment and be­gin to bring it to­gether in real life.

Nat Hentoff is a na­tion­ally renowned au­thor­ity on the First Amend­ment and the Bill of Rights. He is a mem­ber of the Re­porters Com­mit­tee for Free­dom of the Press, and the Cato In­sti­tute, where he is a se­nior fel­low.


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