Analysis: Trying to understand the tensions in Ferguson

WATCH ABOVE:  Violence followed the announcement of the decision Monday night. What happens Tuesday night will be a sign of where things go from here. Aarti Pole reports.

Anger at the a grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, spilled into the streets of the St. Louis suburb Monday night — and into the streets of cities across the U.S.

The chaos in Ferguson was, in large part, not an act of protest but petty crime.

It went against everything 18-year-old Brown’s family had asked for, to “channel… frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”

Burning down a beauty shop had little to do with that.

“We respectfully ask that you keep your protests peaceful,” Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden wrote. “Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.”

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READ MORE: Why Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted for shooting Michael Brown

The protesters who were in fact heartbroken by the grand jury decision —the ones who felt there was a miscarriage of justice but didn’t respond with bricks and baseball bats—were reacting not just to the outcome of the three-month investigation but to racial inequality in a community where African Americans make up the majority of the population.

“This is not about vandalizing,” 31-year-old Brien Redmon, a witness to some of Monday night’s violence, told the New York Times. “This is about fighting a police organization that doesn’t care about the lives they serve.”

Authors of op-eds, in the hours following the decision, tried to bring some understanding of what happened in Ferguson.

“[T]he chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people,” Robert P. Jones wrote for The Atlantic.

READ MORE: Highlights of testimony in Michael Brown shooting

That may be evident in the results of a Pew Research survey, conducted following Brown’s death and published in the Washington Post. It showed 90 per cent of black respondents felt the “case raises important issues about race,” while only 37 per cent of white respondents said the same. But, 47 per cent of the survey’s respondents said “race is getting more attention than it deserves.”

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The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfeund wrote, “Places such as Ferguson were forged by decades of government policies and unofficial industry practices that limited black residents to certain areas of major cities.”

If the white respondents of that Pew Research/Washington Post survey are correct, that race issues get too much attention, then why did UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein have to call on U.S. officials to make a better effort to investigate discrimination.

“I am deeply concerned at the disproportionate number of young African Americans who die in encounters with police officers, as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans in U.S. prisons and the disproportionate number of African Americans on Death Row,” Al Hussein said in a statement that followed the decision.

READ MORE: Rudy Giuliani says white cops needed to keep black people from killing each other

Police and public officials in Ferguson have their versions about why things got so tense. That was evident in Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s announcement of the decision Monday night, in which he went to great lengths to blame people on social media and news reporting for making things anxious in the community.

“He complimented local authorities, conveniently choosing not to mention their internationally panned militarized assault on citizens in the days following Brown’s death. He praised his own management of the process, conveniently ignoring the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder had to step in for oversight and ultimately, to launch a federal investigation because of a lack of trust in the local ‘process,'” columnist Erica Williams Simon wrote for TIME.

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Williams Simon went on to write McCulloch was stating his account for the sake of record, but communities facing discrimination — “black, brown, female, gay, poor and oppressed”— need to create their own record of this key moment in U.S. history.

READ MORE: Thousands rally across the U.S. after Ferguson decision

“Let the record show that after Mike Brown’s death, Ferguson became ground zero for a movement that had been building in cities all across America. It was not the isolated reaction of a group of disgruntled residents,” she wrote. “Thanks to the fearlessness and raw emotion of the Ferguson community, it was the strike of the match that finally lit the flame for people nationwide who felt as if those sworn to protect them, were hunting them instead.”

For those who have trouble understanding why members of the African-American community are so upset by what has happened in Ferguson, Steven Sullivan, executive director of the St. Louis non-profit organization Provident, offered this advice in a column he wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“If you are not angered by Michael Brown’s death, find someone who is … not to argue but to understand. If you are not afraid of what happens in the days after the grand jury’s decision, find someone who is … again not to argue but to understand.

“If you cannot understand why someone would protest or even destroy property, find someone who does understand and listen to them. Do not allow comfort to set your limit in seeking understanding. Comfort alone provides insufficient energy to reach understanding. Strive to be uncomfortable in your journey.”


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