walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Published on: August 15, 2014
Race in America
Ferguson: A Fire Alarm in the Night

The riots in Ferguson, Missouri, raise a lot of important questions—not just about race in Ferguson but about race in 21st-century America writ large.

Thomas Jefferson said that the controversy over the admission of Missouri to the union struck him like a fire alarm in the night: Missouri wanted to join as a slave state, and the resulting controversy almost split the country. It is almost 200 years later, and the issue of race still disturbs America’s peace as nothing else can.

When police in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday, it set off rioting and protesting that continued well into the next week. Rioters have hurled bottles and molotov cocktails at police and fired on helicopters, and the police department has used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to quell the unrest. On Wednesday, the Ferguson police provoked condemnation when they violently arrested two journalists. Fortunately, the decision to put the Highway Patrol in charge of local security seems to have reassured residents, and by Thursday evening the unrest appeared to be settling down as all sides lawyered up. On Friday, reports surfaced that both Brown and the witness to his shooting were suspected of involvement in a robbery; this may have implications for the investigation, and may complicate the script for those who wanted to present the story as a simple morality play. But these reports, even if true, don’t change the fact that law enforcement in Ferguson was way off the rails.

By the standards of American racial confrontations, the Ferguson tragedy has been relatively low key. American history has seen hundreds of people killed, whole sections of cities burned down, and troops called in to put down the unrest in a history of confrontations going back to before the Civil War. There have been more pundits on the front lines of this battle than rock and bomb throwing mobs. The people of Ferguson have been for the most part civil and non-violent in their response; where local law enforcement went wrong, state authorities stepped in relatively simply with a common sense approach that seems to be working. Regardless of any controversy about his actions earlier in the night, Michael Brown and his loved ones and friends are entitled to sympathy and support and, more importantly, to an impartial judicial review of what happened. The state of Missouri seems both willing and able to do that; this is not the Jim Crow South. We can reasonably hope that justice will be done in this case and that Atticus Finch’s services will not be required.

Ferguson’s fifteen minutes will soon come to an end. The media circus will move on; the Reverend Mr. Sharpton will go home. The pundits and political operatives will turn to new topics as the midterm campaign picks up steam. But the race and class issues that the week’s events laid bare will remain; America’s racial fault can still bring forth quakes, and many people will wonder whether the tremor in Ferguson is a harbinger of something worse.

This was an explosion in a suburb, not an inner city neighborhood. As the LA Times sums up:

The nighttime standoff and billowing tear gas on West Florissant Avenue reflected simmering racial tensions in Ferguson, population 21,000, where two-thirds of residents are black but police and city officials are predominantly white…

Ferguson’s police chief and mayor are white. Of the six City Council members, one is black. The local school board has six white members and one Latino. Of the 53 commissioned officers on the police force, three are black, said Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

Blacks in Ferguson are twice as likely to be stopped by police as whites, according to an annual report on racial profiling by the Missouri attorney general. Last year, 93% of arrests following car stops in Ferguson were of blacks. Ninety-two percent of searches and 80% of car stops involved blacks, the report said.

This is the new face of American suburbia. Twenty-five years ago Ferguson’s population was largely white; as part of the national move of African Americans from inner cities to suburbs, Ferguson saw its population shift from 74 percent white to 68 percent African American. The poverty rate is high but not unusually so; about one in five residents has an income that qualifies them as being below the poverty line.

Even though many of Ferguson’s black residents are solidly middle class, theirs isn’t the suburban paradise of the 1960s sitcoms. Poverty, high youth unemployment, and family decline (only one third of the city’s children live in two-parent households) mean that law enforcement in Ferguson is harder than in many places. In a place like that, the explosive dynamics of race and class are never far from the surface, and so for better or for worse law enforcement must have a stronger preventive capability than in other communities. (The crime statistics for Ferguson show that it trends a bit above the national average for violent crime, and significantly above average for property crime. They also show how starkly crime trends differ from neighborhood to neighborhood.)

One of the problems in Ferguson seems to be the indirect result of progressive civil service policies and lifetime tenure for state and local employees. In the bad old days of Tammany Hall, when a new ethnic group surged into a city, it would quickly achieve political control and then set about firing all the old teachers, cops, and firemen and handing those jobs out to loyal members of the reigning political machine. There are a lot of problems with what used to be called the “spoils system” (a reference to the old saying “To the victor belong the spoils,” meaning that the winner of the election gets the jobs, government contracts and other goodies), and a return to it wouldn’t make this a better country—but this is how so many cities have ended up with police forces (and teachers and other government workers) of a different race or ethnicity than the community around them. Over and over again, we’ve seen how feelings of mistrust and mutual disrespect surge when these disparities reach a certain point.

As other suburbs experience demographic changes similar to those in Ferguson, we are going to have more localities where the civil service, police, and teachers belong to ethnic and racial groups who have moved on. That’s a day-to-day problem on the streets and in the schools where racial tension can grow. It’s going to be another kind of problem down the road when the underfunded pension bills of retired city workers come due. Will future generations of black Fergusonians want to make deep sacrifices, cutting spending and raising taxes, to pay pensions for a police force that many believe is racist and violent?

Ferguson is like many other American cities and towns on the firing line: law enforcement is a tough job that urgently needs to be done, but there is a trust gap between the residents and the police. On top of that, Ferguson lacks the resources to train, recruit, and manage the very high caliber of personnel required to do the incredibly difficult but necessary job of keeping the peace without being so harsh, arbitrary, or brutal that shootings like this one occur. As per the latest publicly available information, the number of law enforcement officers per resident in Ferguson was declining.

This points to a problem much bigger than some bad decisions by Ferguson law enforcement: What we have is a system for delivering the worst services to the communities that need the best. This is a multidimensional problem in America today, and it affects a whole range of important services. Take schools, for example. Are the public school teachers in places like Ferguson significantly better qualified and more skilled than the national average? Well, “The [Ferguson-Florissant school] district’s average MAP index score ranked 450 out of the 469 Missouri school districts that reported scores for all four tested subject areas.” So probably not.

The migration of blacks out of the inner cities into suburbs is likely to make some of these problems worse. On the one hand, the evaporation of the black middle class has already made many inner city communities worse off by isolating the poorest. Even as many poor people leave the cities in turn, we are likely to see a clustering of middle class people, both black and white, in some suburbs, while others become dominated by the poor. Poor neighborhoods in big cities may lack the political clout to get all the funding they need, but at least poor neighborhoods in New York, Chicago, or Houston have some access to the revenue and tax base of the larger cities of which they are legally part. Suburbs full of poor people will have only their own small streams of revenue to meet the needs of their citizens.

That in turn is going to have a serious impact on the quality and effectiveness of service delivery. In the longer term, it will exacerbate and racially turbocharge the pension problem. Some of the poor suburbs of the future will have had a prosperous past, and the almost entirely white retired municipal workers will expect the impoverished and struggling black (or Hispanic) suburbs of the future to pay every dime of their promised pensions.

So Ferguson is more than an eruption of American racial problems rooted in the past. It is a glimpse into the future of the social problems that have been quietly growing in the suburbs. 

Some government policies don’t seem to be helping. One is the “militarization of the police“—the tendency of many police forces around the country to bulk up on military equipment, often provided by the federal government since 9/11. It is sadly true that in the contemporary world we do have to worry about large-scale acts of violence associated with international (and sometimes homegrown) terrorism, and so law enforcement agencies, as first responders, probably need to be better equipped than they were before 9/11. However, it is also true that for normal police work, armored personnel carriers and the like normally do more harm than good. The best policing comes from cops who are part of the communities they serve, who walk beats and are otherwise in constant contact with the people around them. Equipping local police forces like the 82nd Airborne is not the road to lower crime or to better relations between the forces of order and the communities they are supposed to serve.

But the problem isn’t just about overarmed police forces. As a society, we have built up a very impressive apparatus of repression for criminal behavior. That was necessary given the enormous wave of crime and violence the country faced only a few decades ago. Many of us are old enough to remember when American cities were dangerous places; today, cities like New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and many others have seen their murder and robbery rates plummet. That was a huge victory for human rights—the human right, for example, of elderly ladies to walk down to the corner store without fear of being robbed. But now that the crime levels are down, it behooves us to think about how we can ratchet down the system we built to fight a crime wave that has passed.  Loosening drug laws, releasing older inmates who no longer pose much danger, finding alternatives to prison as a way to deal with more offenses—all these things can and should be tried in various combinations as we seek to cash in the benefits of a significant national success: the reduction of street crime.

A thoughtful, prudent, and (if necessary) reversible de-escalation of the 1970s and 1980s war on crime would improve the lives of many millions of Americans and, hopefully, help many of them make better lives by becoming more productive members of society—good for us all. It would also save the country billions in prison costs. It would have the added benefit of reducing some of the day to day friction on the streets between law enforcement and some young people, and that would make incidents like the one in Ferguson less likely.

However, in doing this, it really is vital to keep a hard and serious eye on crime. The gains we made were expensive and hard won, and they should not be frittered away. Broken windows still matter, and violent crime remains a threat. Any ratcheting down in the war on crime needs to be carefully thought through. Drug policy seems like a particularly fruitful area to address, because there is a growing social consensus that we can and should manage the drug problem with less recourse to the criminal system—even though we must still manage it somehow. Perhaps by increasing the penalties for violent crime (including crimes committed by persons carrying guns) and reducing legal sanctions against certain types of drug use, we could end up with a safer but less prison-dependent society. 

But when it comes to analyzing and trying to learn from the ongoing events in Ferguson, we shouldn’t dance around the main issue. Although the relationship between the races is more just and more hopeful than it was fifty years ago, the overriding issue in 21st-century America remains that of race. As I’ve written in the past on this site, the intersection of the continuing racial problems of the U.S. with the consequences of the erosion of the blue social model are creating a nightmare for many African-Americans, and this is undermining the still fragile foundations of the mass middle class that African-Americans have managed to build in the 50 years since the civil rights movement.

A problem that is 400 years old (the first African slaves were landed in Virginia in 1619) isn’t going to be solved overnight, and the burdens of a terrible racial history weigh on all Americans, whatever their color and however long they or their families have lived in the country. The challenge that lies before us now is to think about how the transformation from an industrial to an information society can be made to work both for the American middle class more generally without regard to race, and for the African-American middle class given its special circumstances. 

More and more people in both parties realize that our current approach doesn’t work; Republicans have moved away from “benign neglect”, and at least some Democrats seem to understand that the Great Society approach has run its course. The combination of the housing bubble and the recession devastated the wealth of the black middle class; we are losing ground, not gaining it, when it comes to helping a majority of American blacks exit poverty—and in ensuring that all Americans of whatever color or class are receiving both protection and justice from the forces of the law.

In the meantime, what we are seeing in Ferguson should remind us all that America hasn’t yet come to terms with our country’s deepest wound, and that it continues to impose a terrible cost both on society as a whole and on those least able to bear the burden.

Without meaning to, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar really said it all about race in 21st-century America. Talking to the LA Times about the Ferguson riots, he mused:“If there was an easy way to fix this, we would have already solved the problem.”

show comments
  • roadgeek

    But wait. Not quite so simple. I understand there is the question of a box of Swisher Sweets and some videotape. Have the wings of the ascending angel become burnished? Even the very worst police force doesn’t routinely gun down innocent blacks in the street. There always seems to be some sort of crime involved.

    I believe blacks need to be allowed to police themselves.

    • Angel Martin

      New Orleans police department is majority black – doesn’t seem to have solved the problem

      • Curious Mayhem

        See above what I wrote. It’s not a racial problem, at least not in the way it was 60 years ago. That’s a relic, and there’s indeed a whole group of people out there who continue to use this obsolete, relic language, partly because they never learned any other.

        Even if Brown had stolen something, usual police procedure in peacetime is not shoot the suspect in the street. You get backup and capture him, then handcuff and take him in for questioning. You shoot only if he’s armed — then you have no choice.

        But if your police force is militarized, he’s an enemy running away in a war zone, not a suspect who might be committing ordinary crimes, rather than fighting a war. This is crazy. Criminal =/= enemy; crime in peacetime society =/= act of war. Got that?

        Of course, it applies equally if the shoe is on the other foot. Legalistic moralism in the Clinton and Obama years sometimes led to terrorist groups being treated as if they’re just organized crime syndicates. They’re not. They’re at war with us and others — they’re enemies, not criminals — only we seem to have a hard time accepting that fact and being at war with them.

        • Roy_Lofquist

          It is not that Brown stole something. That is either petty theft or grand larceny. What he did, as seen on the tape, is commit strong arm robbery which is universally considered a violent felony punishable as severely as armed robbery.

          The running away or surrender story comes from one witness who was an accomplice to the robbery.

          The robbery, however, is irrelevant to the shooting except that it establishes that he was belligerent with a propensity to violence. The shooting occurred about 10 minutes after the robbery. It is reasonable to assume that Brown, seeing a police officer and knowing that he was in trouble, would be disposed toward resisting arrest.

          The issue is whether he assaulted the officer. We can disregard the witness statement as he was an accomplice. The officer received medical treatment after the incident. We should certainly wait to see the medical report before we make any judgments.

    • DMH

      Why do you assume that Brown was “innocent”? You weren’t there. And the eyewitness that was there, I mean his accomplice lied about Brown getting shot in the back. And the audio of two bystanders clearly indicates that Brown was charging the police officer. What an idiot.

      • roadgeek

        Integration of blacks and whites in living spaces and schools and workplaces isn’t working. Integrated police forces aren’t working, either. I look forward to hearing some of your ideas, however. Oh, and I never said Brown was innocent. I stated that even the worst police force doesn’t gun down innocent blacks in the street. Two different things. I had more in mind little old ladies on the way to church.

        • DMH

          Integration isn’t working? For whom?

  • Suzyqpie

    “There are vast career opportunities, money, and political power to be gleaned from the specter of Mr. Zimmerman as a racial profiler/murderer; but there is only hard and selfless work to be done in tackling an illegitimacy rate that threatens to consign blacks to something like permanent inferiority. If there is anything good to be drawn from the Zimmerman/Martin tragedy, it is only the further revelation of the corruption and irrelevance of today’s civil-rights leadership. Quote Shelby Steele

  • thrasymachus02

    It’s time to end the narrative and speak the truth. Blacks are not oppressed and underprivileged, they are powerful and overprivileged. They enjoy maintaining their power by intimidating people who challenge their aristocratic estate, from convenience store clerks who expect them to pay for things to police officers who expect them not to walk in the middle of the street. The only way to make blacks happy is to make them completey exempt from the law, and that’s not practical.

    • Pete

      Right. The Nego demand a licence to act like a Negro in a society that has high standards,

  • stanbrown

    WRM seems to assume that Ferguson is short of cash to provide adequate services. what are the facts?

  • Andrew Allison

    There are three completely separate stories here: we don’t know what led to the shooting, if in fact Brown was the perpetrator of the robbery the officer’s story of resisting arrest is more credible regardless of whether he knew about the robbery or not; the “to a hammer everything is a nail” of the Ferguson storm troopers was completely unacceptable; and the violence and looting of the Black community was equally unacceptable.

    • Bruce

      Andrew – WRM has done a nice job over the years of discussing the SWAT teams showing up all over America and the fact that we should be concerned. Parading them out in their fatigues was not helpful, but that’s what highly testosteroned SWAT teams do. Law enforcement likes to grow its fiefdoms, just like the rest of government.

      • Suzyqpie

        Government, in general likes to grow its fiefdoms, In all of history, no government became more honest, less corrupt, or granted its citizens more rights as it grew in size.

      • Andrew Allison

        The fundamental problem with SWAT is that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To mix metaphors, they need to be held on very short leashes.

  • Curious Mayhem

    I don’t know about Ferguson, but I know someone who grew up in the Saint Louis suburbs in happier days, in the 50s and 60s. In the late 60s and 70s, Saint Louis had more than its share of racial conflict. The main symbol of that was always East Saint Louis, once a highly segregated place by race, although not as much today. But the whole area has seen happier days. Perhaps the shale-fracking boom will turn things around economically.

    It strikes me that Ferguson is suffering from a “post-industrial” and “post-modern” syndrome of, on the one hand, slipping further and further out of the economic and cultural mainstream, and on the other, of an increasingly and insanely militarized police that less and less view themselves as civil peace officers and more as a foreign occupying army in a war zone (with surplus military stuff subsidized by the feds).

    Libertarians and some conservatives have been complaining for years about militarized police and, sadly, only now being listened to by others.

  • Anthony

    Essay reminds wholes and parts interdepend and may be integral takeaway from WRM’s lamentation (not only do wholes depend upon parts but parts depend upon wholes). In this American tableau, we have a relationship premised on hierarchy of social construct race. And as American history attests, each group is locus of value and there typical value problems recur – W.E.B. DuBois at the dawning of the 20th century proclaimed that the problem of 20th century would be “Color Line”; now WRM declaims the overriding issue in 21st century America remains that of race. Wow, so far yet so near.

    The challenge WRM (one of several), if we are to seriously benefit from positive attempts to establish trust in 21st century America writ large, remains that the historical/natural suspicion and caution must be surmounted; concomitantly, competence, expertise, maturity, fitness, excellence, and wholehearted devotion to task at hand must be first principle – as social interdependence becomes more intricate. Much, much more than genuineness of intention will be required WRM (wisely, self interested groups must understand in plural America importance of taking initiative in promoting own welfare).

    “Never perfect in its operation, the principle of reciprocity evidently works even more imperfectly in more highly complex group interrelations. The imperfections are so great that venturers and those seeking quick results offer believe that they can ignore the principle and somehow escape it’s results. On national scales, too often sons and grandsons suffer the punishment resulting from the “sins” of fathers and forefathers. But the principle does not cease operation just because its effects are delayed. When men disregard consequences for future generations, their character as disregardful of others become obvious to their associates and leads to distrust… The principle of reciprocity works in devious ways. But one must be blind if he is unable to see that when it works the rewards are sometimes enormously good as well as bad.”

  • Look_A_Squirrel

    It’s time to tell the race baiters and professional victim race to shut up and grow up. Blacks are the ONLY group that hundreds of thousands of white people died to free. Yes, there was slavery as a compromise to the Constitution but it took only 75 years to rectify. That was 160 years ago. No other distinctive group has been so coddled and no other distinctive group has continued to fail generation after generation. The Chinese were treated just as poorly. The Irish were lower on the social scale than blacks. The Germans, the Jews, the Italians, the Japanese, Indian, Mhong. All have accepted personal responsibility and instilled morality in their children.

    Time for the blacks to do the same – in this country and every other where they lag behind in achievement but excel in crime.

    • Levant1234

      More of an example how the media is looking for samples of racism.

      Always jumping the gun, and yelling racism, before the facts are out.

      If the narrative from the media was along the lines are that the investigation is on going… and we will give you daily updates, there may not have been the chaos.

      Also, if the Justice Department didn’t jump in discouraging the release of the robbery… I don’t know, Obama’s team, just seams to me to be adding fuel to the fire, fore no good reason but to rile up his base.

    • E. O’Neal

      Blacks who come to the US from the Caribbean and Africa do about as well as other immigrant groups, so the problem is probably more cultural than racial.

  • solotar

    While this piece seeks to be fair and balanced – and largely succeeds- in fact it does dance around the issue. Anyone who has lived in a community with a mix of blacks and whites knows a painful truth: blacks constantly break the law. Most especially, black men steal, a lot – as did Mr. Ferguson. And they also commit a lot of violent crimes, as we see in yet another knockout video (for which there is no mob of whites protesting.) Part of what makes this kind of thing so difficult is that blacks want to be treated with basic respect, but young black men (especially) do not behave in a manner worthy of respect. We read about how many young black men are arrested and serving time in jail and it’s a terrible tragedy – and yet a visit to so many neighborhoods heavily populated by young black men has many whites thinking, “well, they haven’t yet arrested enough young black men.”

    • LivingRock

      Just curious…who’s Mr. Ferguson?

    • megapotamus

      Ferguson is the TOWN.

  • Pocho Basura


  • roastytoasty

    “…the issue of race still disturbs America’s peace as nothing else can.”
    Yes indeed, Mister Mead. From the moment Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” speech was delivered in Ann Arbor, 22 May 1964, Progressives have used ever-expanding administrative bureaucracy to keep the pot boiling. Texas Democrat President Lyndon Johnson used the spoils of WW2 to create a certain kind of constituent–a poorly informed socially “managed” voter who would guarantee Democrat Progressive ascendency for a hundred years. President Johnson said as much himself. Racism is the #1 tool in the Democrat toolbox. Here’s a wikilink:

  • roastytoasty

    “…the issue of race still disturbs America’s peace as nothing else can.”
    Yes indeed, Mister Mead. From moment Lyndon Johnson delivered his “Great
    Society” speech in Ann Arbor, 22 May 1964, Progressives have used ever-expanding administrative bureaucracy to keep the pot boiling. Texas Democrat President Lyndon Johnson used the spoils of WW2 to create a certain kind of constituent–a poorly informed socially
    “managed” voter who would guarantee Democrat Progressive ascendency for a hundred years. President Johnson said as much himself. Racism is the #1 tool in the Democrat toolbox. Here’s a wikilink:

  • BobSykes

    The real problem here is genetics. The black underclass, which is almost half the black population, has an IQ near 70 and is aggressive, impulsive and violent. All of these characters have strong dependence on genes. The result is that the underclass has no economic function and depends entirely on welfare (bribes from white people). None of their problems are due to white racism or economics or the lack of opportunities. They are entirely the result of underclass disfunction. Ferguson is merely the black Caribbean, black Brazil and Africa on the Missouri.

    The problems and dangers of the black underclass are not restricted to them. The white underclass has the same problems: inability to learn, impulsiveness lack of economic function and welfare. It is just that the average White IQ is large enough that only a few percent of whites fall into the black underclass IQ range. However, there are nearly 6 whites for every black, so the white underclass is about the same size. The white underclass, however, is much less violent and aggressive and lacks racial solidarity. So, the white underclass is much less of a problem.

    The great problem facing the US is its underclasses. The Ruling Class is brain-washed into utter delusion and does not even recognize the reality of the problem. This essay is a prime example of Ruling Class delusion.

    • Bruce

      The ruling class understands it perfectly. Those underclasses are reliable votes for Dem politicians.

      • Suzyqpie

        Democrats run Game Show Government, vote for me, I’ll give you cash and prizes. Sadly, the plan is working.

    • D. Adair

      Where does one find the information/ statistics to support your assertion, I would like to see them and their source(s).

      • Suzyqpie

        Here’s an idea, if you have sufficient interest in the topic, google is your friend. You can accumulate the data to support the assertion or craft a rebuttal impeaching the assertion. Until you refute Bob’s assertion, Bob’s assertion stands as fact.

  • BobSykes

    Go over to Fred on Everything

    and read his current post. An excerpt follows:

    “We need to realize, but will not, that blacks are a separate people, self-aware and cohesive. They have their own dialect, music, and modes of dress, which they value. They name their kids LaToya and Keeshawn instead of Robert and Carol because they want to maintain a distance from whites.

    “The races spring from utterly different cultures. Compulsory integration is thus a form of social imperialism in which whites try to force blacks to conform to European norms. Blacks have no historical connection at all to Greece, Rome, the Old Testament Hebrews, Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, to Newton, LaGrange, or Galois, to the philosophic tradition of Thales, Aquinas, Schopenhauer, or Hegel. Nor do Eurowhites have roots in Africa. No commonality exists.”

    Fred is a former urban cop now living in Mexico.

    • roadgeek

      I don’t know that Reed was ever a cop; I think he was a journalist his entire career. He has mentioned doing countless ridealongs with cops, however, into some pretty dark alleys. He’s also a Vietnam vet, who brought home an eye injury which has, due to VA malpractice, almost completely blinded him. I read the same essay yesterday, and agree with every word. He is, quite literally, a prophet without honor in his own land.

      • BobSykes

        You’re right. He’s often mentioned ride-alongs and I likely misinterpreted what he wrote.

        Also, while he is a racial realist, he is not a racist, and he is a strong defender of Mexicans and Mexico.

        And he is a prophet.

      • Ashok

        Reed has an interesting point of view, and I think his position against forced togetherness has some validity. However, I feel that he takes this to an extreme by suggesting almost isolation. People with different cultural backgrounds can, indeed, work together effectively. For example, an inner city minority could help a wealthy white venture capitalist identify a product that would have a market among the urban poor. Both would benefit from creating such a business. I think the main point ought to be that we don’t need to be a homogenous melting pot. We could be a collection of non-homogenous groups united by some core values. We need to decide what these unifying values would be. Perhaps liberty and small government?

        • koenigsking

          Big John Lennon fan, are you? See how all that peace and love worked out for him?
          The problem with your utopian ideals is that both sides have to believe in them. In this case, As in John Lennon’s, one does not.

          • Ashok

            A Big Bad Wolf fan, are you? See how all that violence and hate worked out for him?

            If my response does not make sense to you, then may be you will realize why yours does not make sense to me!

          • koenigsking

            You have accurately described the black side of your utopian vision. Congratulations.
            For the record, the BBW in your comparative narrative is a fictional character. John Hinckley is real. John Lennon is still dead

          • Ashok

            I did not describe any utopian vision. My goal was to mirror your type of argument to demonstrate how nonsensical it is. That BBW is unreal makes no difference. I could have used Hitler, but since he is over-represented in political arguments, I gave an opportunity to an under-represented character. In your original response to me, you made some wild claim of me being a fan of JL, analogous to BBW in mine — neither of these claims are supported by any evidence. You then questioned how peace and love worked for him, analogous to the violence and hate claim in mine — neither of these claims were made by either of us. If you wish to make an argument, then you need to provide reasons to refute my claim, rather than make absurd observations irrelevant to anything I wrote.

          • koenigsking

            You’re right, neither of these claims were made by either of us. I don’t know why we’re arguing in the first place. I was mostly just agreeing with the article’s conclusion about different cultural expectations about outcomes. I still think it’s naive that we can legislate “why can’t we all just get along”. We either will, or we won’t. Situations like this simply present some of us with the perfect opportunity to ask: What if we don’t? Then what?

          • koenigsking

            What I meant from the start is that just in case the Silicon Valley billionaires can’t make a deal with the Detroit drug dealers to re-invent Kumbaya, what’s the harm in having a back-up plan?

          • Ashok

            My original comment was a response to another comment which provided a link to a blog post by Reed. It was about that post, rather than about this article.

  • gunsmithkat

    I believe the problem is largely the result of LBJ’s Great Society anti-poverty program. By making aid to dependent mothers a lynch pin of the program we got the typical result: more dependent mothers. And a huge population of black males who have grown up in a culture without fathers. Now a mostly feral street culture.

    • Suzyqpie

      The Government subsidizes poverty and failure. We get more of whatever the government subsidizes.

      • Mungo+Park

        Yup. If the government subsidized the eradication of whales, we’d be knee-deep in the damn things.

  • lehnne

    apparently mead thinks contemporary black circumstance is immune from cause and effect in regards to the social, political, economic and education policies of the political party in which black people intrusted their interests, goals and opportunities these last 50+ years. These policies have indeed run their course and the results are in.

  • Anthony
  • ojfl

    Two points here that deserve attention. First is the contention of the article that having civil servants of a different racial or ethnical background of the majority of the population in a particular area is problematic. Someone someday will have to explain better why it is so. Should we care at all about these things? Secondly, the entirety of the article points to a general failure of policy where government services, even after decades of being implemented, fail to alleviate or solve social and economical disparities. One only wishes more people finally realized that and took more control over their lives.

    • tv22

      I guess what they are saying is that if you as a white man, is stopped by a black cop, you can question his legitimacy and say it’s unfair for him to stop you merely for being white. That’s what really bothers me here, the idea that “the community” has let out there to tell kids that the cops are the bad guys, not the gang bangers.

      • Ashok

        I don’t believe that unrest on this scale would occur due to an isolated incident. People there must have had unpleasant experiences with police on a constant basis for them to react in the manner they did.

        • johnnydavis1

          That type of “unrest” is not uncommon at all where I live (California). Some would call it unrest. Others might call it opportunism. Others would call it thuggery.

      • E. O’Neal

        Did you see the picture of the smiling group of “demonstrators”, several of them children, who had written in huge chalk letters across a blocked-off road, “F*** the Cops”? As long as the community’s attitude is that the cops, not the gang bangers, are their enemies, there’s no hope. They will have no chance of anything better. The kids will be just as lawless and ignorant as their dads.

        • E. O’Neal

          It’s criminal that our national leaders such as Obama and Holder promote this false narrative of police preying on innocent black children.

  • E. O’Neal

    The core problem is terrifyingly high black crime rates. Only 12% of the US population, blacks commit about half the murders, a third of all rapes, aggravated assaults and vehicle thefts, and 55% of robberies.

    Black crime is why whenever black population reaches a critical mass in places like Ferguson, whites move away as rapidly as possible. It’s not racism to protect your family from violent crime. Fear of black crime is the reason there aren’t many 50% black neighborhoods in America. They quickly transition to 90+% black. The crime rate against the few remaining whites, Asians and Hispanics in those neighborhoods must be astronomical, but I know of no stats.

    This is the elephant in the room no one wants to discuss, perhaps because it gives encouragement to racists. PC is about not noticing or mentioning the obvious. I don’t think we’re better off as a society by not acknowledging the huge cost to society and particularly to black victims of black crime. Black crime will destroy suburbs like Ferguson the way it destroyed Detroit and Newark. Blacks need to stop thinking of themselves solely as victims of white racism — though history certainly supports that view — and realize that black crime is a much bigger problem.

    • wheezer

      and comparing black crime rates to white appalacia, where poverty is as least as bad or worse, one wonders.

      • Justjean

        White appalachia also has high drug use, though perhaps less violence due to more open space. People have a right to live in dissapation, but I think they’ll be happier if they do what they have to do to be independent. Unfortunately, stealing, among both groups, and threatening others with guns is often looked on as “what they have to do.” Black and appalachian leaders both can hopefully do a lot to create new societal morays.

      • Bunky

        If you take West Virginia as an example of Appalachia and look at both property crime and violent crime ( internet search ) both are significantly less than the national average.
        Not the ghetto average, the national average.

        • wheezer

          yes, and in 8 counties in eastern Kentucky (the 8 poorest counties in the USA) violent crime is 56% lower than the natl average. In fairness, the other poster makes a valid point though, about drugs and population density. In NYC, there are enough shelters to house all homeless yet many choose the streets. Why? because theft in those shelters is rampant when alot of the homeless are packed together under 1 roof. Makes a case for dispersal of ghettos.

    • Matthew2237

      High crime rates are a symptom. The root cause is the disintegration of the nuclear family. Until that trend is addressed, and reversed, there will be no progress.

      • E. O’Neal

        True, but high out-of-wedlock birth rates will take generations to reverse. High crime rates can be addressed in a matter of years by better policing, long sentences that get the predators off the street, and more community involvement. We really need a sea change in black attitudes toward police and criminal gangs. That could change more quickly if such as Obama and Holder would side with the police and stop pushing their racial narratives of victimization. I’m not holding my breath.

  • megapotamus

    Caution, forbearance, respect for the process… yeah, that’s cool. But there is one side that doesn’t subscribe to that, therefore neither can. The Big Question since the press conference? Why did you wait to release that video? As if that is the problem. Now we know that DOJ asked the locals not to release it. Wouldn’t look good, dontcha know? Shall we hire black cops for black neighborhoods? Okay. Shall we fire (or not hire) black cops for white neighborhoods? Oh no, that’s racist. Black teachers have made the public schools a disgrace here in Atlanta, harming mostly black students, naturally. But to observe that is also racist. To pursue these crimes is racist. Certainly to demand return of the fat bonuses those teachers and admins got for faking their results…. oh man, you bet that is racist. Oh well. If it is none of by business and all my fault, that’s fine. But I have nothing to take, the ultimate defense to looting. Forward.

  • Charming Billy

    Ferguson is indeed a suburb of St. Louis, but it’s an older “street car” inner suburb. So, although it was majority white, and was a recipient of the post war white flight growth, it’s not really an Ozzie and Harriet post war white flight suburb. Its neighbors, Florissant and Hazelwood had a much more Ozzie and Harriet character. Furthermore, many older suburbs of St. Louis, such as Ferguson, have an inner city character because St. Louis City has not expanded its boundaries since 1876, when it seceded from St. Louis County. Consequently, although St. Louis’s inner ring suburbs are, strictly speaking, suburbs, if St. Louis City had not fixed its boundaries in 1876, much of the “suburban” growth in the St. Louis that took place from the late 19th and early to mid 20th century would have been contained within St. Louis City, rather than St. Louis County. That’s why the inner ring suburbs are often part of St. Louis’s inner city urban core.

    • rheddles

      My understanding was that St. Louis City was withdrawn from St. Louis County in the Civil War as was Baltimore City.

      • Charming Billy

        No, STL City seceded because St. Louis County, which was then rural and relatively poor, was viewed as a financial burden. City residents didn’t want to fund county services. Nowadays, the tables have turned.

        • rheddles

          Thanks. Interesting or coincidence they did it at the end of reconstruction.

  • Madison431

    And if Brown rushed the cop after hitting him and trying to take off? Not saying it is so, just wondering where all this moralizing goes if it was just a case of punk, high on pot, rushing an armed police officer who the 285 pound “teenager” had just assaulted?

    • LuapLeiht1

      Potheads usually don’t rush cops…That being said, I have no idea what happened and neither do you. Patience and calm are what is needed here and wait for the facts to come out. The chips will fall where they may.

    • charliehorse

      When the policeman told Mr. Brown to get out of the middle of the street, one of them knew that there had been a robbery, and it wasn’t the policeman.

      Me thinks that bit of info might shine some light why the “gentle giant” was struggling with the policeman for his gun inside the police vehicle.

      BTW….looking at the current news as of 3PM Fergison time, sure looks like quite a few folks are missing work today to protest in the street.

  • Dave Avery

    if Ferguson is 68% black then one should expect that blacks (68%) as twice as likely as non-blacks(32%) to get stopped assuming an absolutely even distribution.. “Blacks in Ferguson are twice as likely to be stopped by police as whites, according to an annual report on racial profiling by the Missouri attorney general.”

    • tv22

      The kids there can’t go to school today because of the example the adults are setting. Don’t expect them to understand math!

    • LVTaxman

      The statistics are based on percentages, not raw numbers. With the demographic, is would seem there were 4 times the blacks stopped as whites.

  • tv22

    The only part about this story that is about race is that the majority of the population in Ferguson doesn’t think the police are allowed to patrol the streets and arrest people for committing crimes. The story about how Michael Brown was shot for some reason has not been reported yet.

  • baseball16

    “Are the public school teachers in places like Ferguson significantly better qualified and more skilled than the national average? Well, “The [Ferguson-Florissant school] district’s average MAP index score ranked 450 out of the 469 Missouri school districts that reported scores for all four tested subject areas.” So probably not.”

    This comment is not in line with the rest of Mr. Mead’s analysis. Teachers are certainly one factor in student success, but the overview he gives of Ferguson — beginning with the stat that only 1/3 of its children live in a two-parent home — leads one to believe that the MAP scores are mostly out of the educational system’s control. Perhaps a growth score would be more useful, but still . . . .

  • DMH

    I lived in Dallas in the 1990’s. The school district employees were overwhelmingly black. The majority student population was hispanic. The hispanics were upset because the district didn’t reflect the color of their skin. The blacks were upset because they used the same argument 30 years earlier.

    The fire alarm that went off in Ferguson wasn’t about changing demographics, it was about government failure. The police will not protect you or your property. They will stand by as your business is looted and burned. Or as one apologist in the media phrased it, “as your business is re-purposed”.

    Wake up. Buy an AR-15 with high capacity magazines and prepare to defend yourself because the police won’t.

  • Joe D Pufnstuf

    The burdens of America’s racial history don’t weigh on me at all. People are people, and I figure everyone has the responsibility as well as the right to advance themselves. Their problems are not my problems, as long as I don’t refuse to hire someone based purely on skin color.

  • Mike Siroky

    You say:” More and more people in both parties realize that our current approach doesn’t work; Republicans have moved away from “benign neglect”, and at least some Democrats seem to understand that the Great Society approach has run its course.”

    Really? Which Democrats seem to understand that the Great Societ, especially Aid to Families with Dependent childre (welfare), is the cause rather than the solution. Hillary Clinton? Debbie Wasserman-Schultz? Barack Obama? Harry Reid? Nancy Pelosi? Sheila Jackson-Lee? Keith Ellison? Jesse Jackson? Al Sharpton?
    Give me some names.

    • carltonwest

      None of the above.

    • johnnydavis1

      Democrats in unison see “the great society” as a mechanism for growing the size of government, increasing their power base, and enslaving a large block of voters to a permanent lifestyle of government dependence. They make recognize the failure, but they will never give it up.

  • goodbyecountry

    This article in wrong. The violence continued even after the protesters got their way and state enforcers replaced local police. The looting continued after a curfew was added, and now lifted.

    • LVTaxman

      He wrote this last Friday, probably before the tape was released.

  • kenspiker

    See an episode or 2 of “The First 48″ and you can see what the police are up against. A murder can occur in the middle of the day and be witnessed by 20 people and nobody will give a statement to the police. They’re intimidated by the young criminals who seem to rule the projects, and those young thugs have handguns and AK47s. Without cooperation of locals crime just gets worse. They complain about overbearing police presence but that’s where the crime is and that’s where the cops go. Of course the criminals hate the cops. What else is new? A cop would have to be Gandhi and St. Francis together to be able to police those ghettos without being accused of racism and brutality just by doing his job in a fair and conscientious manner. So the media pick up the narrative that the problem is the cops and it’s all about how can the cops be nicer so the criminals don’t hate them. I don’t buy it. Criminals don’t hate cops because the cops aren’t nice enough, but because they’re criminals and don’t want to be interfered with as they go about their dirty business.

  • Cleetus

    There is another battle going on in Ferguson and that one involves the press. The officer who shot the black man is undergoing a nightmare of unreal proportions due to the media.
    In the case of the Trayvon Martin shooting, I listened to the entire trial and was shocked at the complete absence of any evidence showing George Zimmerman to have done anything wrong. In fact, all evidence, admitted and not allowed to be admitted, were consistent with Zimmerman walking back to his car when he got attacked by Martin. None of this matters to the press who hounded Zimmerman with great zeal. On top of that, the black community still refuses to accept the verdict in the case and has repeatedly threatened Zimmerman’s life.
    What we will likely see is a repeat by police officers of the scene in the book/movie “Lone Survivor” when the Seals have to chose between killing some goat herders or let them go and have every Taliban soldier in ten miles chasing them. In the end, they did not fear the Taliban nor did they fear death, but they did fear the American press. The result was they let she goat herders go and all but one died.
    How much longer will it be before a police officer refuses to defend himself for fear of the press and the toll it would take on his family? What the black community, the press and the rest of the country needs to remember is that the officer is innocent until proven guilty. Even more important is that the officer’s family did nothing so why should they suffer from the press intrusions and black threats?

    • E. O’Neal

      Good post. The Duke non-rape case is another example. The media, black leaders, and Democrat politicians love a sensational racial narrative. These narratives of depraved whites and angelic “gentle giants”, or such, never hold up for long, but in the meantime innocent lives are ruined and the cynical b*stards prosper. For the Dems, racial anger is necessary to gin up a core constituency that gives them more than 90% of its votes. Their game works or they wouldn’t keep doing it.

  • carltonwest

    What “fire-bell in the night”? There is no need for psychobabble about the riots in Ferguson,MO. which are the entirely predictable, run-of-the-mill smash & grab loot & steal caper which blacks always pull at the drop of a hat. Been going on for at least 60 years without a pause.

  • Stanmo42

    Mead, very nice article. I take issue with “solidly middle class”. The imaging I see is housing projects and lo rent corner stores. Also, I have watched a few spectator videos. Dead black guy in the street? Cops shot him for no good reason. Somebody walks and asks what’s going on? Cops shot that black guy for no good reason. Repeat until everyone is in a frenzy. People have no clue what happened.

    • E. O’Neal

      Those are Section 8 apartments at the far end of town. Fairly isolated with high crime.

  • D.C. Dave

    This is by far the dumbest outcry the U.S. has had in a LOOOOOONNNNNGGGG time… Oh wait, since last year.

  • donqpublic

    I suggest you take any of the news pictures of the looters and then instead of a black face imagine a smiling Senator Corzine’s face, or a Lerner’s, or a Pelosi’s. Looting is in the eye of the looters.

  • Harry T Santiago-Hiraldo

    What I find interesting in the article is the dissection of whom are the people running the institutions. No please correct me if I am wrong is the position of Major not an elected one? Why then not field candidates that are black? Why not participate then in the electoral process? Get elected or appointed to the school board, the article is very disingenuous there and it makes it sound like the white majority is entrenched in power. If there is too much apathy in the minority voter, well they can only blame themselves.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Key concept “…those who wanted to present the story as a simple morality play.”

    An election cycle morality play presented in the medium of street theater and reviewed by friendly critics in the MSM is exactly the reason Ferguson is in the news. This is what it looks like when the DNC adopts the community organizing principles of Alinsky as basic campaign strategy. They were looking for a white cop to kill a black teen, and when Mike Brown went down, they jumped in. This is where the DNC will site their political street theater for this cycle. The decision has been made, and only Obama’s DNC and their community organizers can stop the show.


    The citizens of Ferguson aren’t responsible for specific police misconduct, if it’s proved to have occurred. However they are responsible for who they elect to municipal office. There’s been no evidence presented that I know of to show anything tainted in the local elections there. The black majority just apparently participates at a very low rate. I live in a town that’s also undergone demographic change, though gentrification, getting a lot more upscale and white in the last 20 years. However till recently the old working class Italian American political machine still dominated politics, along with the more numerous Latino’s, their junior political partners (and whose fault was it which one was willing to be second fiddle?). Now it’s reached a tipping point, the political old guard is out, and very unhappy and playing the race/class card about it. Too bad, that’s democracy. Same in Ferguson politics if the black community uses their numbers and gets out and votes.

    • lichau

      The voter participation rate is, I understand, about ten percent. I would be willing to bet virtually all of those are longer term residents–and virtually all white.

      I also predict this will be “corrected” in the next election. Look for a voter participation rate somewhat above 100 percent. No whites will be elected.

      Problem solved.

  • John White

    Hell, whatever happened to get the facts and let the chips fell where they may. The news media is a big joke now they don’t report the news they make the news now. The truth is the truth, I am sorry Mr. Brown got killed, if he is innocent then make the cop pay, but I don’t think anyone will ever want to be a policemen if no matter the facts you go to jail for following correct procedures. The facts are the facts, we don’t want to ever get to the place that, we create victims, and make them a Saint if they are not. We are suppose to be color blind, just the facts. In the bad old days white people got away with murder, does it make it a better world if we just turn the tables, I would like us to maybe remember what Dr. Martin Luther King said, let us to judged for our character not the color of our skin. That really is a hard test for a person of any color but I think Dr. King had it right.

  • dailypenny

    Having lived in St Louis most of my life, the problems in Ferguson offer many explanations. The first, and the one- that the media has focused on the most- is the racial divide- there has for a long time been a divide between what one would call North St. Louis (Ferguson, Normandy, Florrisant) and the rest of the city. Ferguson had (and still has) many middle-class white families, but through the 1970’s and the 1980’s.and especially in the last 10 years, the racial makeup has changed so that it is primarily minority in makeup. The schools- which mirror the St. Louis schools as a whole, are terrible to say the least, and so you get a lot of people who simply drop out, don’t achieve, or fail to perform. There is a lot of what you might call unspoken anger- repressed and otherwise.
    Economically, all the major businesses have moved out or relocated, leaving very few work opportunities- that is places for people to go and things to make the community better.
    The cops reflect the community. They are understaffed, woefully ignorant of what one might call minority issues, and most of all they are insulated. While I understand the anger, the worst thing that could happen to the community is to have Obama and Co. continue to use it for political gain. it will take years for Ferguson to recover.

    • azt24

      While I understand the anger, the worst thing that could happen to the community is to have Obama and Co. continue to use it for political gain. it will take years for Ferguson to recover.

      This. Even now, Eric Holder is in Ferguson, pouring gasoline on the fire while pretending to put it out. Ferguson is nothing to him; his preferred narrative is everything. That is why he was so angry at the local police for releasing the video of Michael Brown committing a strong-arm robbery. It undermined the narrative.

  • johnnydavis1

    The “racial issue” will exist as long as political opportunists “see” these types of events through a racial prism. It seems that as more facts of this case come out, it becomes less and less of a racial issue. Certainly, the original story that played out early in the media was one that was mostly fictitious, and probably somewhat deceitful. While the policeman may have overreacted, the young “victim” was clearly not a law abiding citizen who was holding his arms in the air in surrender. That story was a hoax fabricated by race baiters.

  • ibeeducky

    The media has blown this all out of proportion. I am tired of hearing about Ferguson !

  • dogged

    “…at least some Democrats seem to understand that the Great Society approach has run its course.” Which ones, dare we ask? The current Administration entered office with visions of the Great Society on steroids (if not harder drugs.) The failure of Lyndon Johnson’s 1960s fantasy has not deterred them one whit.

  • maodeedee

    What happened to Barack Obama’s original campaign promise to bring about racial healing in America?

    I wish he’d stayed on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard with all the uber-rich swells he so loves to hang with, because now with Ferguson, I guarantee he’ll only make things worse. He’s already sent Holder down there, so the process of picking at the open sores of racial animosity and fanning the flames of resentment have already begun.

    • E. O’Neal

      This ridiculous racial circus orchestrated by the administration, Democrat media and “civil right leaders” is tragedy for race relations. It’s making both whites and blacks more racist. The idea that a murder occurred just because a young unarmed black man was shot to death by a white policeman seems obvious to most blacks (per polls) and Dem media but nonsensical to most whites who want to see some evidence first.

  • whidbeytom

    At the expense of being politically incorrect I offer the following.

    “The nighttime standoff and billowing tear gas on West Florissant Avenue reflected simmering racial
    tensions in Ferguson, population 21,000, where two-thirds of residents are black but police and city officials are predominantly white.” It seems obvious that the reason the blacksare underrepresented in government is that the blacks don’t vote.

    “The [Ferguson-Florissant school]district’s average MAP index score ranked 450 out of the 469 Missouri school
    districts that reported scores for all four tested subject areas.” There is a well known culture within the black community that discounts education and accuses educated blacks as being uncle toms.

    Lastly, roughly half of the murders committed in the US are committed by blacks according of FBI figures –
    and of that, roughly 90% are committed by black men. Blacks make up only 15% of the US
    population. So, it is only reasonable that the police keep a close eye on a population group that has a high incidence of crime.

  • Brian Patronie

    Get the water cannons out.
    Enforce the curfew.
    Get the facts and either charge the officer or not.
    Grow up.

  • Forrest Waller

    I usually enjoy Mead and agree with him, but he wrote this article too quickly and before essential facts were in. Information has become available that is inconsistent with, and ought to change, key dimensions of his narrative on Ferguson. He is honest enough to do that on his own, but I will assert that the prolongation of unrest in Ferguson has little to do with Ferguson, Brown, Wilson or the police demographics.

  • john

    Almost all of North St. Louis county is primarily African American. For a good explanation see the documentary “Spanish Lake” about the history of part of the ares.

  • stanbrown

    Ferguson is teaching us far more about the state of liberalism in America than about the state of race relations.

  • stanbrown

    Heather MacDonald

    She asks questions that WRM should have asked (or at least thought about) before he wrote this.

    • stanbrown

      “The press quickly developed a formula for reporting on the “unrest,” as
      the media still call such violence: select some aspect of Ferguson’s
      political or civic culture; declare that feature racist, by virtue of
      its being associated with Ferguson; disregard alternative explanations
      for the phenomenon; blame riots on it. Bonus move: generalize to other
      cities with similar “problems.”

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