Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I've been at a loss for what to say about the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri -- I've been looking at photos and reading accounts of an excessively militarized police force for a couple of days, and now the live-tweeters are talking about more tear gas, shortly after reporters from the Huffington Post and Washington Post were arrested, merely for having the audacity to try to charge their laptops in a McDonald's a couple of blocks away from what I suppose we should call the front lines.

But are you imagining that all this is going to shock the nation's conscience? Are you imagining that Heartland America is going to be horrified and ashamed at the disproportionate display of force in Ferguson, or disgusted that freedom of the press is a joke to these cops?

Forget it. Somehow, a certain percentage of American heartlanders managed to feel empathy across tribal lines half a century ago, in the civil rights era. Maybe it just that it was a prosperous time, and the majority populace felt it could spare a thought for peaceful black protesters being attacked by racist mobs, menaced by police dogs, assaulted by firehoses, blown up in churches.

But in 2014 we live in a country where middle-class wealth stagnated for thirty years before the bottom dropped out of the economy altogether, and now the wealthy are experiencing a members-only recovery while the rest of us cling to what we have left. It's made heartlanders very sparing of their empathy. Besides, there are ready-made formulae under which they can dismiss the victims in Ferguson: some of those protesters did loot and riot, so I guess all of them deserve whatever happens to them; plus, we don't trust the media, so who cares if those snotnoses get roughed up a little by the law.

Maybe I'm underestimating America, but I doubt it. I just can't see any reason why the arrogant SOBs who run Ferguson shouldn't ride roughshod over everyone they're confronting -- why would they expect to be accountable afterward? There's no large, broad progressive movement in America; the civil rights movement is moribund and elderly; and what the hell could we do to punish some inner-ring suburb of a midsize city anyway? Mount an economic boycott? What do we buy from Ferguson, Missouri, that we could stop buying?

Portions of the heartland will get upset at much milder infringements -- even imaginary ones -- that affect members of their own tribe, but I just don't see America caring about this. I hope I'm wrong, though.


M. Bouffant said...

I'm afraid Barnum was right; you'll never go broke underestimating America.

Victor said...

And the whole purpose of trying to take the middle class down in this country, was because in the 60's, a lot of white families did sit around in their comfortable living rooms, after a day of work, and a nice meal, and were disgusted by the open racism and violence in the South they saw on the TV news.

And they did something about it - from calling politicians, to letters to the editor, to donating money.

When people have enough not to worry about tomorrow, they can look around and see how comfortable they are, and how badly off others are.

Now, those who have anything want to hold onto it.
And they don't have the time or energy, let alone the will or money, to try to help others - especially, those of another race, or those from another country.

In the 60's, a lot of people wanted to extend the ladder they were on, down to others.
Now, they want to pull it up. So that they can stay on the rung they're on - even if it's one of the bottom ones, and no longer somewhere in the middle, like back in the day...

The super-rich and powerful have won.
They just aren't ready to declare victory, until they have it all.

And, plus, what's happening in Ferguson is good practice for their paramilitary police, just in case the "poors" start to get out of hand.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a lot of people in the '60s gave a cold rat's ass about police abuse. I'm willing to bet that the majority of people saw authorities using fire hoses on protesters and cheered for the hoses. The difference was that the major news media did care somewhat. Mostly because they wanted America to look dignified and free during the Cold War.

Palli said...

Start by stop using words like "the despised" to describe American citizens of color and/or low income.
This police abuse of power is happening to AMERICANS.

Steve M. said...

Oh, I'm the problem? St. Louis County is a police state because of a headline on this blog? Palli, please.

Steve M. said...

Flip, you're right about the media (and government officials) not wanting racial injustice to be a black eye for America during the Cold War. But as for the polling, it's a mixed bag -- not in favor of the tactics of the civil rights movement, but in favor of civil rights.

Palli said...

No one said you were the problem. But after thinking awhile, do you really think "the despised" is appropriate, particularly in a piece skeptical that lasting public outrage will occur.

Headlines are hard but words can carry meanings that don't advance the intent of the message.

If I could now be in Ferguson, I would certainly not want to be considered one of the despised, it does not engender comradery or respect-both of which these citizens richly deserve. African Americans have been the canaries in the mine of our democracy from the beginning. The fact that African Americans have kept the faith is astounding.

Steve M. said...

I used "despised" because it implies a group of despisers. I thought it was clear from what I wrote that it's a problem for America that they despise their fellow citizens, but I guess not.

Mart said...

I turned to NBC local news in the Lou, they seem to have the most reasonable staff. They looked stunned at the intimidation; and then the tear gas, rubber bullet assault. Their field reporter was gagging on gas. Later the crew was terrified they were about to be in a gun fight, and the desk ordered them to get out of there. My gobsmack moment was when they played tape of an officer taking aim around a stone pillar with another machine gun armed officer backing him up. The tape showed them proceeding to light up al jazeera America's live feed with a tear gas canister. The cops knew exactly what they were doing. It should play well in Qatar.