August 22 2014
Ferguson and Occupy: United in Anger
We don’t really know enough about the out-of-town Ferguson protestors.
We know a great deal about their rage and opinions on the tragic shooting of black teen Michael Brown, but we don't know about them.
Who are they when they are not in Ferguson? How did they get to Ferguson? Where are they staying? Are they employed? If so, how can they take time off to protest, ever how serious the issue is?
Newsweek did report that Ferguson has become a “recruiting tool” for St. Louis gangs.
No media outfit with the resources to do it has assigned a reporter to wear out shoe leather walking around asking the protesters to speak in depth about themselves, however. It is almost as if they are eager to carry a message of anger but are afraid to look up close and personal at the protestors.
A case in point is the Washington Post’s front-page story (subscription required) headlined “Not Their Grandfather’s Protest” about the “divide between the Twitter generation and the civil rights era.” There is also a companion pictorial essay on the “Faces of Protest,” which doesn’t take us behind the faces.
Two of the faces are Queen and DeMerrius Plait of O’Fallon, Mo., pictured kneeling in the “hands up, don’t shoot” position. The caption: “I worry about my sons. As a mother, I know that young black men are living in danger from the police.” Tell me more--but they don't. Indeed, beyond the brief captions, we learn nothing about the Plaits or, indeed, any of the other “Faces of Protest” in the one-page spread.
The headline of the main story (“Not Their Grandfather’s Protest”) implicitly portrays the Ferguson rioters as a logical development from the civil rights generation, whose heroism changed a nation.
But if you read the story--which quotes older civil rights leaders far more than the Ferguson protestors--they don’t sound anything like civil rights leaders. Reporter DeNeen L. Brown begins:
It hasn’t been so easy for traditional civil-rights-era activists in this small St. Louis suburb in recent weeks, where the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer has put them on all-too familiar turf: challenging the treatment of African American by police. …
But what also has affected these activists is the realization that there is a generational divide between them and young protesters, who are organizing on their own. They are fueled by rage, mobilized by social media and sometimes, or so it seems to the old guard, capable of a bit of disrespect.
“The difference is in the ‘60s we were disciplined,” Ron Gregory, 72, told a crowd gathered at a historic church on Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis to discuss protest strategies. The city is just miles away from Ferguson.
“We were trained when we marched. We were taught that if they spit on you, just wipe it off and continue marching. But we are dealing with a new breed of youngster. They say ‘You better not spit on me.’”…
Some young people ignore orders to disperse. They’ve been known to shout back, “F--- you!” And when the police fire tear gas, some pick up the canisters and throw them back.
For the record, Ms. Brown doesn’t record a single instance of a Ferguson protester being spat upon, though we have seen the police with heavy equipment trying to contain the rioting. Ms. Brown also doesn’t throw much light on the people who make up this “new breed of youngster” drawn to Ferguson. She talks more to the older civil rights types than the Ferguson protesters. In one instance, however, she does quote a younger man saying that the Ferguson generation is “more rageful” than the civil rights-era leaders. But why?
The overarching anger for local youth, [Bradley Rayford, a 22-year-old student government leader at a community college in Ferguson] said is rooted in the sense that they are caught in a vise, with police harassment on one side and little economic opportunity on the other.
“It’s a socioeconomic thing,” he said. “It begins with getting a traffic ticket. You get pulled over and get this huge ticket. In some parts of the city, tickets actually double.” Get a couple of those and soon “most people can’t afford their bills.”
So they have to make a choice between paying their bills and paying a traffic ticket.
It begins with getting a traffic ticket? Give me a break.
The Ferguson protesters seem to me more like the next generation of angry Occupy Wall Street movement rather than the revered Civil Rights movement.
The Occupy movement had more Ivy Leaguers, more people from privileged backgrounds, but the anger and hatred for the United States are the same.
Democrats, including President Obama, were sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street. In like fashion, Attorney General Eric Holder went to Ferguson and proclaimed that he stands not with the rule of law but with the people of Ferguson, presumably including the most angry elements among the protesters.
As I said, we don’t know as much as we should about the protestors, but I can’t help thinking that President Obama, the Attorney General’s boss, has had five years to heal the racial divide in this country.
One element of that would have been addressing the anger we see in many African American youths. He could have told them that the U.S. has worked hard to eradicate racial prejudice. Maybe the country still has work to do, but it is trying. He could have talked to young African Americans about taking advantage of opportunities, perhaps speaking to them about the importance of getting married beofre having children and preparing for jobs. It goes without saying that one should pay parking tickets, though a way around that is to obey the rules and not rack up tickets. But I hadn’t previously thought we needed to get to such a micro-level.
A sign I saw in Ferguson said, “Begin the Class War Now.” Guess where that sentiment came from, Gentle Reader?