What I Saw in Ferguson, MO
*Mostly written at 3:17 am, Tuesday November 25, 2014.
Only hours after Darren Wilson had not been indicted, I decided it was the right decision to go to Ferugson, MO. Sure I could have written that paper I had to write or do the reading the reading I had to do. But rare are the moments where what lies at the fore of the collective social consciousness is just 6 miles away. The decision not to indict itself is not what I address here, but simply what I just witnessed. I cannot describe what I saw, nor what I feel in with a pithy quip or a trending hashtag. What I saw was not civil disobedience, was not protest for civil rights or justice. It was nothing short of a malestrom of unmitigated chaos. Puling into Ferguson toward where we saw police lines, a police yelled and directed our car forward—a man had just been shot and had fallen. The owner of a local business, camped out in front of his store to protect it said something that informed the rest of our night and will stick with me for some time: “A bullet ain’t got no eyes.” In trying to find a way to exit from the labyrinth of confusion, closed streets, and crowds, we were forced to drive through a parking lot of a Walgreens—yes, the Walgreens from CNN. As we turned the corner to the front of the building, smoke flowed from the walls. Flames engulfed the store. Accidentally driving through the gasoline that had been thrown through the windows, we looked squarely in the eyes of the arsonist, wearing a gas mask. At every stoplight that cars actually bothered to stop at for fear of violence, crowds of young, masked men would run, bags of stolen merchandise from Dollar Tree in hand.
It is not ideals or pursuit of justice that drove that violence. It was senseless rage. Senseless in that throwing bottles at police, firing weapons into crowds, burning businesses and stealing what goods the inferno have not already consumed is not protest; it is pure rage manifesting in the worst way possible. Nonviolent protest and civil disobedience are one thing. What I experienced and what continues to engulf Ferguson is something else entirely. In my view there is no excuse for it.
For all the social activists who find it instrumental to post about Ferguson use the hashtag #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmattter, I challenge you to probe the implications of your activism. “Take to the streets” “This is what democracy looks like” are just a few I’ve seen. Take to the streets for justice, not revenge. This is not what democracy looks like, but a noble cause for just existence coopted by mania.The movement you are prodding is not being hijacked—I dare you to go to Ferguson and observe the fruits of your supposed assistance. Attacking police is utterly useless in a campaign for progress. Unrelenting violence only serves to bolster the very stereotypes that amount to institutionally enforced repression and caused the untenable condition we have observed erupt into paroxysm. Moreover, at the end of the day, Ferguson’s residents, the most affected by the unfortunate events of this night, will have to bear continuous witness to their scorched streets, their crashed windows, and their broken spirits. There is, though, simply no justification, individual, institutional or otherwise for violence of this order.
Justice may have, or may not have been done by Wilson’s escaping indictment. The fact of the matter is perfect justice, like any ideal, will never be within reach. We have striven for it by the best means and procedures we have at our disposal. Failure or success, it is done. What is left to do is to look forward and not protest in this grotesque manner, or offer postings on walls that amount to fanning vacuous flames of mindless rage with hallowed meaning. Even tonight many employees of the university I go to lack a place to go or have no way of getting there. Many of them live in Ferguson. To this, I do not say “Take to the Streets.” I say embrace them in the kind of love and warmth upon which genuine progress on civil rights in this country has always been based, and not the hypersensitive political correctness it has been perverted to enforce. I am fiercely proud of my fraternity tonight in opening our doors to employees in need of a place to stay.
Does it sound like I am sympathizing with police brutalizers? Or more offended by yearning for civil rights than by institutional repression? It shouldn’t. To have read thus far and draw that conclusion would be a solecism of the highest order. Some readers might say something to the tune of: “IT IS YOUR OBLIGATION TO SIT THERE AND REMAIN PEACEFUL WHILE WE SHOOT YOU, SPRAY YOU WITH FIRE HOSES, RELEASE ATTACK DOGS ON YOU, MARGINALIZE YOU ECONOMICALLY AND SOCIALLY TO GHETTOS, AND SIT BACK WHILE OUR POLICE FORCES REGULARLY BEAT THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF YOU, AND IF YOU CANNOT REMAIN PEACEFUL IN THE FACE OF THAT, THEN YOU ARE THE VIOLENT CRIMINALS, NOT US.”
It’s a silly response. I could pick apart the claim, its warrant its backing its grounds and its qualification, but there is no need. No one wants to read a rhetorical analysis of a radical’s stream of heated consciousness. Suffice it to say that systems are made up of individuals and abstract notions of privilege blind one no more than does abstract—and outright fictitious—notions of Whiteness. Now, I am no peacenik. But I am no conservative. I am only rational. What will come of it all? Not one idea has been developed, not one coherent grievance expressed. Progress will not come from hate, but from love. Not from destruction, but from embrace.