drwex (drwex) wrote,

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Two brief thoughts on Ferguson

Lots of people have written lots of interesting (and heartening and depressing and insightful) things. Here are two thoughts I have:

1. I do not care if the boy who was shot was "one of the good ones." That phrase offends me, because there's an implication that some boys somehow deserve to be (or we are OK if they get) gunned down by police while unarmed. Yes, it's sad that this boy was initially portrayed as some kind of gangster or hoodlum and that speaks volumes about our racist societal assumptions. But you know what? I don't care. I don't care if he was a gang-banger, or a shoplifter, or a college-bound nice kid. The undisputed fact is that an unarmed civilian was shot multiple times in what I would probably call execution style. That is just wrong.

2. The role of "the State" is way more complicated than most commentators are willing to acknowledge. Local authorities were clearly out of control, clearly overreacting, clearly over-militarized. But local authorities are also the ones who are most likely to have local residents on the force. They're the ones most likely to be known to the citizenry. It's said that the residents of Ferguson know who the shooter cop is, even though authorities won't name him. That's because the residents see those local cops day in and day out. If the State - in the person of the local police - has racist or soured relationships with the community only those local authorities can fix it.

The situation appears to have been calmed by the introduction of Missouri State-level police, who replaced the local and county authorities. That's good - the State here served a positive role. But at the same time, State governments often have much more racist and much more regressive policies than local authorities. States, particularly in the South, were the most vocal and effective opponents of integration and other attempts to improve racial justice. States all over the US today continue to impose measures such as gerrymandering and ID restrictions that isolate, disenfranchise, and disempower voters who are poor or black- and brown-skinned.

The Federal government, as noted above, has played a major role in promoting and enforcing civil rights legislation. It has established a dual justice system where people - especially those of color - who have been denied their rights in lower or state courts can bring Federal civil rights actions to redress their grievances. The Feds have consistently taken certain states to court in an attempt to maintain equal access to the ballot box, to housing, etc. But at the same time it is the Federal government that promotes and pays for the arms race that has turned local police forces into paramilitary units. The Feds, and their post-9/11 paranoia, bought tanks and drones and sniper rifles and overpowered SWAT teams to the streets of hometown America.

Anyone who thinks this issue is a simple one when talking about the role of "the State" is missing the point, I think.
Tags: politics, thinky stuff
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