Why has Ferguson sparked a national response? I believe it is because it has highlighted longstanding tensions within the country.
By now, most of us have probably heard about the Ferguson case and how the court ruled to not indict the police officer that shot and killed an unarmed teenager.
Numerous articles have been written in response to the protests, riots and social media attention. Some people agree with the protests but others are condemning the public display of outrage for reasons such as:
- Rioting is only creating more violence
- Rioting is destroying local businesses, what is the point ?
- This is 2014, we are equal there is no discrimination maybe we are better off separate but equal (yes this was actually written about)
- Police officers have the right to react in that given way if they feel they are under threat
- There’s even this interesting sentiment that the public pressure for the NFL to “do more” and take public stances is wrong because it is moving public justice to private justice.
I’ve also noticed a trend of many people saying, “the police officer was not indicted because according to the law he was not guilty” and thus invalidate all the negative sentiments of protesters.
I’d like to offer a response to this trend. Perhaps National outrage about Ferguson has resulted because if we remove the Ferguson case from the picture, there are still multiple nationwide racial tensions.
In one of our classes we went over Martin Luther King Jr’s writing A Letter from Birmingham Jail. I will highlight some of these points and experiences that I feel are similar sentiments to those protesting in reaction to Ferguson.
- “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” To which he responds: “This is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to crate such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
- “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” To which he responds that there are two types of laws: “Just and Unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in it’s application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance…but such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest. “
I recently read an article that outlined why, according to the law, the police officer was not indicted. I’d like to quote one of the article’s points:
“2. Reasonableness Standard: The Supreme Court has clearly stated that an officer’s actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them at the time — without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.”
Perhaps he was rightfully under the law not indicted. Perhaps. So thus the uproar is illogical and ignorant right? Wrong. People are starting to speak up about the hostile unfair environment they feel created by racial. We cannot invalidate sentiments of the protestor because there is “no concrete evidence ” of racism.
Something I found interesting is that the law itself acknowledges that it is possible to have “underlying intent or motivation “ probably enough times to put that kind of safeguard in a law that can let an officer walk away with no indictment in a case like this and open the doors for people to quiet others voices by invalidating their sentiments.
Consider this definition of ‘rule of law’ taken from Professor Mike LaVanque-Manty’s lecture:
“A state enjoys the rule of law when the use of coercive force is predictable, non-arbitrary, transparent, and consistent with publicly available laws and other rules, and the use of force is subject to review and open to appeals.” This is what MLKJ was advocating for and I believe this is the exact underlying topic behind the protests. Whether they can point to this definition or articulate it the ‘textbook’ way, I believe Ferguson has sparked a nationwide reaction because more people are speaking up about their sentiments that currently there is no consistent, non-arbitrary or transparent rule of law.
Consider some of these numbers surrounding the Ferguson debate:
- At least 5: The number of unarmed black men killed by police in the past month alone.
- 86%: The percentage of traffic stops in Ferguson that targeted African-Americans in 2013
- 92.7% The percentage of total 2013 arrests in Ferguson that involved African Americans.
- 1 in 3 vs 1 in 17: The number of black men versus white men nationwide who can expect to go to prison at some point in their lifetime. It is 1 in 6 for Latino males.
And if you might think racism is dead, watch this horrifying video of a couple on live TV mocking the chokehold that killed unarmed Eric Garner. He was killed by a policeman who was not indicted but the man who recorded the video was indeed sentenced.
And just in response to the negative responses to riots occurring, I agree that for the most part violent rioting is destroying businesses and hurting the community. But I do not think it is fair to make this an excuse to generalize condemning public protesting. Rioting is a part of change in an ironic way. It brings attention to the media about how some people are outraged. It is then up to the rest of the non-violent protestors to articulate that outrage and stand up for what they believe in.