Monday night’s reaction to a grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer who killed an unarmed young black man in August consisted of peaceful protest in some places and vandalism and looting in others — a burst of violence so widely and persistently predicted that it seemed as much self-fulfilling prophecy as organic expression of rage.Spontaneous or organized, riots have sporadically pierced the social compact through two and a half centuries of this country’s struggles over equality and opportunity. But August’s violence in Ferguson broke the mold in three important ways — one of which is just unfolding now. These were rare suburban riots, racial violence coming to the very place where many Americans — both white and black — had fled after the urban unrest of the 1960s. These were the most significant explosions of racial frustration since the election of the nation’s first black president, and so Ferguson forced the country out of the fantasy that America had entered a “post-racial” era.Finally, what distinguishes Ferguson from the crowded historical catalogue of racially-motivated street violence is what has happened in recent weeks: The unseemly buildup to the announcement of the grand jury’s conclusion that no crime was committed in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown has produced an expectation of ugliness.What occurred Monday night — and may continue in the days ahead — is rioting as planned event, so pervasively predicted, so extensively prepared for as to obscure the power and meaning of the protests.
What did the experience teach anyone watching? First, that no particularly good excuse is necessary to spark social breakdown. Any old reason will do, imagined or not. Second, that the health and well-being of the cops is more precious to them than that of the citizenry (protecting the public buildings, especially police headquarters while the rest of the town burned). Third, that the health and well-being of the rioters, looters and arsonists was more precious to the cops and those who ordered them about than the lives and property of the citizenry of Ferguson, black and white.
Thank you, authorities of Missouri, for making our case about the armed citizenry.