The scenes in Ferguson Missouri last night we have come to expect in war torn far away nations, not rural America. More than a dozen buildings stand charred, set ablaze in a wave of fury poorly directed at their own homes. How angry does one have to be to destroy your home town? We have found out that it takes the death of yet another African American at the hands of a Caucasian police officer.
These scenes of violence come following the decision by the grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson following the death of Michael Brown in August. His death sparked protests, sometimes violent, as police were criticised for using military grade riot gear. What made this particular death seem so egregious was that Brown was seen to have his hands up in apparent surrender to the officer when he was shot. Police have said there was a struggle between the teenager and the officer before the shooting.
The anger, although misdirected, is not unjustified. This failure by the grand jury even to indict a man responsible for yet another death in a community rife with racial tension is frankly worrying. The streets of Ferguson are now destroyed, but what is left behind is a far more tense atmosphere than was seen before this failure of the justice system.
Many people took to the streets late Monday and into Tuesday to vent their feelings about racial injustice, rooted in the fact that Brown was black and Wilson is white, and more importantly police violence. Most did so peacefully; others did not. Bottles were hurled, along with batteries and rocks at police. Authorities responded with round after round of tear gas, as well as shooting bean bags into the crowds.
“This ain’t Iraq,” Demetric Whitlock yelled to a line of police officers, in front of the Ferguson Police Department. “This is the United States.” His pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears considering the phalanx of opposition which continues to stand across from the protestors.
The images coming from Ferguson appear to be from a warzone, an entire street engulfed in flames, police cars and row upon row of vehicles set alight and left to burn for hours. Fortunately thus far nobody has been seriously hurt but six people were treated and released with minor injuries at nearby St. Louis’ Christian Hospital. Spokesman Bret Berigan has said that there were no known serious injuries, either to citizens or police officers, although he added the caveat of thus far.
Is this violence the way to respond to such a decision? Will this show of support from a community, both in Ferguson and countrywide, help to show America that this racial insensitivity has to change? Or will it simply provide fodder for racists who will say that this is the reaction of a race of people to not getting their way? This destruction cannot help the cause of changing a nation’s view on racial violence. The protests however will. The voice of Michael Brown will have to echo down to each individual alongside the voices silenced voice of Trayvon Martin or from the fortunate to be alive Rodney King.
People need to know that this is a problem on a scale we here in the United Kingdom can scarcely imagine, but people all over America have to try to stop this. There has been a failure by police officers, sworn to serve and protect, to protect citizens from their comrades. Men and women in uniform who have killed or seriously injured minorities for a perceived fault based on their race.
Enormous changes are needed. So large that an entire culture needs to shift in the United States, but the change has to happen for the good of the citizens. An African American should not have to walk the streets fearing for his life every time a police siren can be heard in the distance. Maybe one day we will get to a stage where that is possible, but until that time we will see many more towns set ablaze like Ferguson.
Click here for full coverage of the initial incident.