I haven’t blogged about the depressing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, for a number of reasons: first of all, unlike left- and rightwing partisans, all of whom are convinced they know exactly what happened, I’m not in possession of all the facts.

So what do I know?

I know that everyone in a position of authority, including the police chief, the Mayor and the Governor, has demonstrated what world-class bungling looks like. It’s hard to imagine more ham-handed and counterproductive efforts to deal with an already difficult situation.

I know that Ferguson’s population is two-thirds African-American, and that virtually all of the power structure–elected officials, police officers–are white. I also know that–at least according to press reports–turnout in the last municipal election was twelve percent. Maybe there is a reason the residents of Ferguson are not exercising their franchise, but on the surface, it is puzzling that members of the African-American community haven’t used the ballot to address their grievances.

But most of all, because I have a lot of black friends and because I used to be the Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I know that–Sesame Street et al to the contrary– the policeman isn’t always your friend.  Most police officers are good guys, but there are far too many who use the badge and the gun to compensate for whatever demons they fight, to reassure themselves that they are superior to the people they are supposed to be protecting, and as a license to frighten and dominate people they don’t like. (A police officer who was a recent contestant on “Wheel of Fortune” described her job as “Trash Management,” because she “takes out the human trash.” That’s an attitude we can do without.)

One of the blogs I follow is “Juanita Jean: The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Parlor.” This recent post from”Juanita” helps explain the concerns and the anger, not just of African-Americans and Latinos, but of all fair-minded citizens.

True story: the first time a met a Texas Ranger, the legendary Texas lawmen not the baseball team, I was wearing a gorgeous hand loomed sarape from interior Mexico. It was one of my prize possessions because of its beauty and utility in Houston winters. The Ranger, meeting me for the first time, said to me, “Don’t you know not to wear a poncho around a Texas Ranger?” I asked why. “Because that’s what we take target practice on. Har. Har. Har.” My stomach turned. It was a life-altering moment.

That’s not funny. Not at all. And the reason it’s not funny is that there is too much truth in it. Twenty-five years later, I met the first black female Texas Ranger. I asked her if I could hug her. I didn’t tell her why but I think she saw it in my eyes. She hugged me.

I am in pain over Ferguson. We’ve fought this crap for my entire life and we still haven’t won.

I still have some fight left in me. I do.

We all need to fight–for justice, and also for forbearance. We all have preconceived notions that dictate knee-jerk responses to tragedies like Ferguson. Those preconceptions only drive us further apart, when what we really need is a narrative and definition of justice that will allow us to come together.

And really, military gear doesn’t help.


  1. That 12% voter turnout you mentioned was for the recent primary elections statewide in Missouri, not the Ferguson percentage. The next municipal elections are next April in 2015. Folk are already determinedly registering voters in Ferguson — you can bet your bippy the turnout will be significantly higher than 12%

  2. A news article posted on Facebook yesterday showed a picture of a voter registration booth set up in or near the area of the shooting and protests. A police officer was bent over, adamently expressing his displeasure at the audacity of such inappropriate action at this time and in that place. What better time and what better place to attempt to get minority voter regisration accomplished in a predominantly African-American city with low voting history?

    There has been much transparency and conjecture – mostly conjecture – regarding Michael Brown; so far the only transparency I have seen regarding Officer Warren has been his name – released after days of waiting for something – anything – in the way of informatition from the almost all white police department. Michael Brown’s parents and their attorney have repeatedly asked for peaceful demonstrations; their son is being demonized by authorities and anonymous “information” providers. If, as was reported early on, Michael punched Warren in the face; why haven’t we seen pictures of his injury? We certainly received pictures of Zimmerman early on after he killed Trayvon Martin. Also reported was the information that Michael had marijuana in his system; if it is standard procedure to test officers involved in shootings for alcohol and/or drugs, where is that report on Warren.

    While this country and this city have made strides forward regarding changes in racial disparity; we have a long way to go and will never reach total equality in any area on this issue. We now have other races struggling for equality and fairness. Much has been said about this country beginning with immigrants from around the world; little is said about the Native Americans we disenfranchized in every way humanly possible to begin this “free” country. I hope and pray Eric Holder manages an open and fair investigation into this entire situation; from the minute Michael was in that store to the demonstrations and arrests nightly in Ferguson, MO. I found it unsettling and deeply sad that President Obama had to call a press conference to report on agressive actions by this country in Iraq and aggressive actions by authorities in the small city of Ferguson, MO, in the same breath.

  3. I’m an incessant poster on fb. Perhaps addictively so. My posts have been 95% + in opposition to the exact thing pointed out for exactly the same reason. Bungling and the tendency to ignore or underplay badly the bias that I know to exist in enforcement organizations of all kinds. I have zero doubt that many heroic people may under some circumstances behave abominably, that too often it’s more prevalent in communities of poor or black and brown people and that despite decades of effort there remains a mountain to climb in understanding and equity at very basic levels. Race, class, gender, appearance, body language, facial expression, a multitude of factors go into split second decisions that go wrong often. Yet it’s my opinion they are too easily dismissed as errors if good people for reasons the public could not rightly get away with. No one in authority is completely capable of objectivity yet we allow law enforcement to police itself and know it fails. There’s no explanation for some of the statistics regarding culpability and we see in a technological age multiple examples of death and severe harm which are not fully explained. The destruction of trust is the natural result. This is a failure in every direction. We can do better but only by some additional review. One way is more video which is feasible but makes me nervous for several reasons. Another is civilian oversight. I’m not interested in demonization but I am interested deeply in both actual and perceptions of justice. At present both are suffering.

  4. In post-9/11 USA, members of the law enforcement community have saint-like status and their errors in judgement are often overlooked by elected officials and forgiven by a public that has been indoctrinated to believe that it is necessary for their safety. Regardless of the heroism displayed by many in their ranks, they all must be held accountable for their actions, like any other public servant. There have to be standards of conduct for law enforcement at all levels of their organizations and service to the public has to be the basis for those standards. Ferguson is another instance where the poor judgement of a law enforcement officer has resulted in the death/serious injury to someone and the law enforcement establishment has shown that it is reluctant or unwilling to acknowledge and resolve it.

  5. When the emotions expend themselves and ration returns, there is obviously work to be done by lots of people. It seems to me that one way to view the work of the progress necessary to reduce the odds of the “next time”, is what falls to the majority community and what falls to the minority community? While each blaming the other is natural, its equally nonproductive. But, it’s the best that some are capable of.

    For those capable of more, where to start? Jobs are certainly part of the remedy, but their creation depends largely on non political circumstance.

    Education? Certainly, but I would assume that’s a struggle already undertaken by people who can influence it.

    The list of possibilities is endless.

    There was a recent article in the Rochester paper about our race riots in the 60s. It recounted how Joe Wilson, the then CEO of Xerox, drove into the inferno, sought out an influential black minister, and asked, “what can I do?” And listened. And acted. And worried things into reality. Leadership anxious to solve problems rather than bask in the publicity glow of them. Mr Wilson looked at it as his personal responsibility to the community that had given him so much, and a natural extension of the gift of leadership that he had been amply endowed with.

    We’ll see who rises from these ashes. From among the circling vultures hoping for a free meal, will rise a community organizer who will ask, “what can I do?” What can my people do to help your people rise above these circumstances? One who will blame and alleviate the circumstances and respect the people.

    I hope.

  6. The video being posted from media outlets like the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Sports Illustrated and dozens of other major media of cops engaging in clear violation of constitutional rights is everywhere, and it’s stunning. How does the city deal with that if journalists start to sue based on violation of freedom of the press? Is the city liable? What is the fallout of those heavy-handed tactics?

  7. These things have been happening to Black men for hundreds of years. It’s just what Europeans do to other races. And to each other when deemed necessary. There was a time when you never saw white men spread eagle under police heels. It is now common. I have often warned about little people with grown-up toys. The danger lies in the fact that it is coming closer and closer to a theater near you! Forget Kent State at your peril. Generals don’t have toys which they don’t use. Your local sheriff believes himself to be a general because he couldn’t make it in the real service. Hitler was a corporal. Beware of small people in big places!

  8. Excellent response, Earl. The more things change, the more they stay the same; this is true of racism in this country more than anything else. People told me after I was mugged that I should have been carrying a gun. due to the circumstances and how quickly it happened would have resulted in another armed nutcase on the streets of Indianapolis.

  9. Parents should never have to outlive their children, and nobody should ever get shot walking to their grandma’s house. I’m taking my only daughter to college tomorrow. Michael Brown was supposed to be going off to college this fall, too.

  10. What ever happened to the “Awficer Dibble’s” of the world? The nice Policeman from the cartoon “Top Cat” …

    Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Ferguson, Missouri.

    Indianapolis, Indiana.

    Several incident’s over the last couple of years in Albuquerque, an incident in Ferguson and now an incident in Indianapolis. As we review the history of American law enforcement. The picture of an age-old tradition is quite clear; the American lawman is trained to kill.

    Now, in Indianapolis, we have a situation where a young man has killed a police officer. The public prosecutor is seeking the “Death Penalty” (which, I thought was only seek-able for Pre-Meditated Murder; However, I’ve been wrong before and I’m not a legal expert).

    But, this nagging question keeps coming to the forefront of my thoughts …

    If the young man had been unarmed, would he still be alive today?

  11. Red George; I THINK when a police officer is killed, seeking the death penalty is always an option. These recent cases of unarmed young men shot and killed, tased or die in a choke hold, aren’t always black men. Don’t forget Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City, a young white who was shot to death last Friday evening by police for not halting when ordered – he was wearing headphones and didn’t hear the order.

    Here in Indianapolis we have such well trained police officers that, when Mark and Lindsey Jones mugged and robbed their second elderly victim, age 90, sitting behind the wheel of her car in the Steak and Shake drive through lane – a witness provided their description, the license plate number and description of the car. Police identified them later that day and under cover officers began following them everywhere at that time. However; after following them from my local Kroger they obviously didn’t turn into my neighborhood (only one way in & out) and I was mugged on my driveway at 11:00 in the morning. With under cover police still following them, they registered at the Knight’s Inn at 21st and Shadeland at 6:00 that evening and one under cover officer rented the room next door to maintain their vigil. They also followed them when they sold their car for junk and were picked up by a friend who began driving them around local parking lots, scouting for new victims. However, one week later – still following them, now 3 with Robert Morris their driver, into the parking lot at MCL at 10th and Arlington, they watched the car carefully. Sadly, they didn’t see Mark Jones get out of the car and rob another old woman (victim #4). They followed the car to a nearby Shell station and learned over their police radio that another old woman had been robbed in the MCL parking lot they just left. They were astute enough to arrest them in the Shell station, finding the victim’s purse on the floor of the back seat and her credit card in their possession. All of this information is in the court documents which I have a copy of. Any questions as to why there are so many criminals on the streets of Indianapolis?

  12. I helped judge last year’s “We the People” state middle school finals, and the topic happened to be the Enlightenment sources of our founding documents, including the idea of the consent of the governed.
    I asked several students whether they’d consented, and in what form they did so.
    One student shot back: “Not rioting!”
    It was funny, but I believe she had a genuine insight that seems worth pondering in Ferguson’s wake.

Comments are closed.