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From Whence Comes Ferguson

Posted by T. Resnikoff // August 22nd 2014 // Issues and Trends // one comment

Michael Brown – killed by the police years before he or his aggressor were born.

To Bear Witness 1

Police attacking protestors on the Selma to Montgomery march, 1965, from “To Bear Witness”, © UUA


This blog has published extensively on the inequitable treatment of racial and other minorities in American society. The recent police killing of 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is the unhappy occasion for us to present a cogent collection of stories that attempts to explain the pervasive and systemic policies, legislation and societal attitudes which – in their ensemble – encourage the desensitization of the privileged in their treatment of others.

The violent death of Michael Brown by police shooting on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri has ignited protests that refuse to calm. What began as a local event with national implications has grown into a national moment of recognition of the systemic inequities of American society that disadvantage minorities. One indicator that this is a national issue is in the inability of local or state police to calm the anger, which caused the Governor of Missouri to mobilize the National Guard to police Ferguson.

The events in Ferguson that began August 9 are the result of long-standing government policies that have created a condition of Social Exclusion and have been amplified by policies such as federal programs that fund and equip the police with decommissioned military equipment. Young black men and other minorities are the targets of mass incarceration¹, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, discrimination in education and voter discrimination, which diminishes the value of the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, and School Desegregation and Equal Educational Opportunity as legal protections that were enacted more than a generation ago with the intent to create a more equitable and just society for all Americans.

The result of these policies which diminish Civil Rights and the most basic freedoms of American society (Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of the Press) is to fuel the feeling of injustice of the aggrieved, making it so palpable as to call them into the streets and into confrontation, inspiring their sense of justice and challenging their instinct for personal safety. Underfunded police departments fielding under or improperly trained – yet over-armed –officers face-off against people of color who are denied the resources of a strong education, are systemically economically disadvantaged and are overly-persecuted – even to death. Both challenge us to respond – not only with policy reform but with deep soul-searching and meaningful change of heart. We must witness with them.

In his effective account of the combined forces that are at the root of the police shooting Michael Brown writes,

Soon enough, demonstrators will be chanting the name of another young black man killed by another agent of the state charged with containing blacks, not protecting them. We want it to be one way—a world where the police are here to serve us all—but it’s the other way, a world where black bodies are the chief targets of American fear.

Read “Why the Fires in Ferguson Won’t End Soon” by on Slate.

This New York Times opinion piece, In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power by Jeff Smith explains the economics of small cities like Ferguson that exacerbate tensions between community and local police forces.


Standing on the Side of Love Action Guide

THE NEW JIM CROW | UUA – fighting racial profiling, criminalization, disenfranchisement, and mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color

Background reporting from the Blue Boat:

Economic Risk Greater for Minorities.
Economic Discrimination Starts at Home. Housing, education inequality and mass incarceration.
Mass Incarceration: Systemic Bias. How the Prison Industrial Complex incites mass incarceration.
Not K to 8 – K to Life. How unfair treatment students of color feeds mass incarceration.


On the transfer of military equipment to police forces:

Loaded: Local Police Awash in Military Gear, Aljazeera America.

What Military Gear Your Local Police Department Bought, New York Times.

Lawmakers to Review Military Gear for Police, Wall Street Journal.


¹ “In addition, the United States has very abnormal statistics when observing the racial dimension of mass incarceration.” (source: Wikipedia article on mass incarceration).



About the Author

Ted Resnikoff is the Digital Communications Editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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