Monday, September 1, 2014

What's Behind Ferguson?

Carol Anderson writes in the Washington Post for an essay titled: Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress:
A little more than half a century after Brown, the election of Obama gave hope to the country and the world that a new racial climate had emerged in America, or that it would. But such audacious hopes would be short-lived. A rash of voter-suppression legislation, a series of unfathomable Supreme Court decisions, the rise of stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality make clear that Obama’s election and reelection have unleashed yet another wave of fear and anger.
Her thesis is that black progress is met with the (white) power structure reliably producing a backlash of suppressing rights and finding ways to (legally--or at least cloaked in majority-power legitimacy)  roll the march of black advancement back. She cites several examples (starting after the civil war). She sees the black family's reduction in wealth after the 2008 economic collapse as a "targeted hit."

To a degree there, at least, she's not wrong here: there is at least apocryphal evidence that guys selling sub-prime mortgages did go after the black community (and The Omnivore has heard they'd go to the phone book and just call everyone in a "black neighborhood"). Whatever the case, black families lost proportionally more than white ones in the crash and a higher percentage of their net-worth in their homes.

Is Ferguson the white power-structure hitting back?

Gary Brecher, aka The War Nerd, has a timely article up on the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington by the British. He declares that America, despite getting beat up a little in the fight, was really treated with kid gloves:
People talk about how the British troops “burned Washington” after the Battle of Bladensburg left D. C. wide open, but really, Americans have no idea how easy we got off. The British took it very, very easy on us, just like they did in the Revolutionary War. And for the same, simple reason: We were white, English-speaking Protestants like them. If you didn’t check every one of those boxes—not just white, but English-speaking and Protestant–you were in for a very different experience of British occupation, one that involved portable gallows, burning villages, and liberal use of the bayonet on one and all.
The Omnivore concurs with his assessment--which raises a question central both to Ferguson and many other similar cases (Ferguson's racial / economic makeup is not that unusual for 'inner-ring' suburbs): Why is the police force acting the way they did? Oh--sure, you already 'know.' The answer just about everyone will (and should) give is that ridiculously low voter turnout in the black community led to a white power-structure that hired a lot of white police officers.

Okay, fine--that's seemingly supported by math--but that doesn't answer the actual question. It takes as an assumption that people will vote for candidates of their own color (this is, likely, supported by statistics). it takes as an assumption that people will hire people of their own color (again, probably true statistically--but wouldn't you think a best-practice for police hiring involves hiring from within the community to be policed?). So the question remains: What exactly is going on with the police? There are two kinda competing theories here that were set up in the beginning of the post. These are:
  1. The police are behaving like a fairly brutal occupying force because they understand that their job is to protect the power-structure. They are not elected--but their boss is and he knows that he doesn't make it clear that they are to defend White Ferguson (as opposed to Black Ferguson) he will not be re-elected. In other words, he has an unspoken (or at least not publicly spoken) mandate keep the White Peace.
  2. The police are behaving as an occupying force because the people they are policing do not check the necessary boxes. They can't get away with portable gallows but essentially, given a populace of people that don't look, speak, and share common cultural markers with them, they Stanford Prison Experiment all over the place.
Of course you read those and decided that they were not mutually exclusive--and that's fine as far as it goes--but one is explicit and one is innate (a 3rd possibility is that the policing is damaged by things like a lack of qualified candidates--especially from within the native community--and is simply substandard--but no one has shown the Ferguson police department to be seriously under-trained). So which is it? How would we know?

The answer is that we don't: the way to know would be to track things that, mostly, are not well tracked:
  1. The behavior of the PD compared to other PDs when the spotlights are not on them.
  2. The behavior over time as the economy shifted Ferguson--was it a slide or an inflection point caused by some new administration?
  3. How the campaigns for the 2013 municipal elections were run? Were they any black candidates? Were there any 'dog whistles'? Was there any particular racially-intense issue that voters were turning on? 
  4. Etc.
However, while The Omnivore doesn't have this information, The Omnivore has a supposition: The British troops certainly had a mandate and a playbook--but there is no suggestion they needed any special guidance to behave in a barbaric fashion with people who didn't check their boxes. ISIS also has a playbook--but it's unclear that this is in anyway motivating their atrocities.

The Omnivore thinks that The War Nerd's plan is probably more on point here--humanity doesn't need a command to be awful to each other. We can do that naturally.


  1. O, the "targetted hit" on black community wealth was, imho, much less to do with racial or even economic prejudice (i.e. intending harm to), than it had to do with pure, abstracted (i.e. separated from humanity) and thus (non-pejorative) amoral, economic opportunism. There was money to be had. I don't like it, it ain't cool, but dems de facts.
    And wrt humanity not needing a playbook to be aweful to each other, yes there is truth. But again that, it seems to me, tends to originate as part of group-think, where the 'human connection' is abstracted away. Cause it's also true that people don't need a playbook to realize these things are wrong, to be kind, and to want to help.

    1. I think you're right that, according to stories I have heard, black would-be home owners were seen as -especially- vulnerable for some reason, yes. However, it was probably easier to dehumanize them for the (white) con-men selling those sub-prime loans. -The Omnivore (and yes, humanity has a better nature too)