Civil rights

Déjà Vu

Oppression and injustice, not unlike revolutions, always begin small. A cadre of like-minded individuals gain influence among a modest group of people, then they establish policies and doctrines that cement their authority over others, frequently minorities.

In South Africa, for example, the National Party started out as a disgruntled band of Afrikaners who wanted to assert power over the native blacks who had inhabited the land for hundreds of years. To be fair, the National Party also considered themselves natives (without the barbaric and uncivilized connotations), since their Dutch ancestors had arrived at the Cape in the sixteen hundreds. Without being too simplistic, their history was the same as every other colonial power: a conquering country arrives and steals the land of the native people, claiming it for their own.

From the vantage point of the Afrikaners, they built the country, bringing modern technology and western civilization to the natives. Of course, their concept of civilization did not include any measure of equality such as sharing the land or the resources or the wealth. Their building of the land depended on enslaving the natives, eventually corralling them into townships and so-called homelands.

It is tempting to forgive people who claim that that kind of slavery and injustice are over. It is part of our past, they say. Not our present. Even in the United States the Supreme Court, i.e. the Republican appointees, have begun defanging and stripping significant power from the civil rights legislation claiming that it is no longer needed. Even where voting rights have been historically denied or curtailed in the offending southern states the Court now says there is no longer a need for protections. Equality has come to the land they say. It is not so tempting, however, to forgive those five justices—they should know better. In case there is any doubt regarding the blatant blindness of the Court, we have Ferguson, Missouri.

Not unlike the Afrikaners, a cadre of white individuals has staked a claim over the city, controlling its power structure and policing. As happens all-too-frequently in the U.S. an unarmed black man was killed by a white cop. Missouri, by the way, is a southern state.

You’ve got to hand it to Ferguson, though. At least in South Africa the government hired and bribed black policemen to kill black citizens. That’s too subtle for Ferguson. Just let a white man do it. In the open. In broad daylight. In fact, shoot him six times with one of the bullets entering the head execution style. If this sounds as though I am playing a race card or fanning the flames of discontent, consider:

Michael Brown, as we all know, was unarmed. Initially the city officials gave little information about the shooting and when they did, the statements were inconsistent and incoherent, sometimes even flat out contradictory. We were told the officer knew Michael Brown was a suspect in a convenience store altercation. Then we were told the officer knew nothing of the kind. We were told that Brown was stopped for walking in the street, apparently a very serious crime in Ferguson,k one that can lead to death.

For one week the name of the officer, Darren Wilson, was withheld. As is typical in these cases we were told how wonderful and highly regarded the officer is. Apparently Wilson is a good guy who just shoots unarmed people. In the Old West it was called “circling the wagons.” Today it is just called protecting your own. Hmm. And I thought the police were supposed to protect the civilians.

This satirical tone is rooted in the fact that this kind of incident is not unusual, and achieving justice has become nearly impossible. Juries are reluctant to convict a police officer for shooting a suspect—even when the citizen is not suspected of do anything wrong. The officer simply claims he was in fear of his life. Apparently, too many white cops are afraid of unarmed black civilians. This is unfortunate, for there are more than enough examples of officers shooting in true self-defense. And no one wants to see police killed in the line of duty. Hence the jury tendency to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. But…

One has to wonder how the police department and city officials would react if a black officer killed an unarmed white citizen? It was not that long ago that black men were routinely and unjustly lynched after being falsely accused of raping a white woman. Maybe the Supreme Court is wrong and racial prejudice and injustice are not just memories. Wait a minute. No. Not maybe. The Supreme Court
is wrong.

My earlier reference to the Old West is underscored by the fact that Wilson shot Brown at high noon. At least in the movie of the same name, Gary Cooper shot people who were really trying to kill him! At the very least, police officers need to know that unlike Marshall Kane, or Wyatt Earp; unlike James Bond even; being given a badge and a gun is not a license to kill.

Note to the Supreme Court, to Congress and to the authorities in Ferguson. We can no longer tolerate this kind of déjà vu.
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