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Making Sense of Ferguson

Caricature of Steve 

Periodically events surface that prompt calls for a national Conversation about Race. I posted a blog one year ago about such a conversation and whether we as a nation were prepared to have a serious discussion about what separates whites, blacks and other groups in America. 

 The events of Ferguson, Missouri remind us that we still are not ready–and that silence is deadly.

 The basic facts appear indisputable.

 One week ago 18-year-old, Michael Brown, an unarmed black resident of Ferguson, Missouri was shot to death by a city police officer.

 The killing has sparked a week of protests and police violence in the suburban St. Louis community of 21,000 residents –70 percent of whom are African-America. The city government and police force, however, are predominantly white.

 The mayor of Ferguson is white, five of the six city council members are white, and 50 of the 53 police officers are white.

 The racial divide in Ferguson is an obvious source of the underlying tension between city administration and residents.

 The citizens of Ferguson don’t have faith in their city leaders and don’t trust the cops. Why should they?   Mayor James Knowles acknowledges that many in the community believe the police don’t like them.

 Police Chief Thomas Jackson claims he has tried to change that. Recruiting more black officers, he says, has been a principal goal during his four-year tenure. It defies credulity that Mr. Jackson could not find more than three qualified candidates of color to join the force.  

 It will happen again

 Ferguson and many other American cities are racial powder kegs ready to explode.

When city administrators and residents don’t talk to one another, tensions smolder.

 When government and citizen concerns don’t match, distrust simmers.

 When law enforcement is more interesting in controlling a population rather than building community relations, people die.

 And as long as cities are divided by race instead of united in shared governance, they are not truly representative. That is true in Ferguson and the consequences are tragic.

 A Conversation about Race might not have prevented the events of the past week. I’m still not convinced that this country is prepared to talk about race and the tragic consequences of silence. The truth of this nation is too uncomfortable for most Americans to acknowledge.

 Until we are, there will be more Fergusons.

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