As a sign said at the rally last Saturday, "Ferguson is the symptom. Racism is the disease." Racism may not be overt problem at all times. You could be a carrier. You could be ill from it and not even know. Our nation is practically soaking in it.
Darren Wilson, the Texas-born officer who allegedly shot Michael Brown to death, is a young man, just 28. His friend from high school denies that the killing was racially motivated. Somehow Wilson got at least an acute case of the disease.
There have been peaceful rallies all over the US and beyond since the Death By Cop of Michael "Mike Mike" Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson, a northern suburb of Saint Louis, is the epicenter of public wrath now. However, never lose site of the fact that this problem is not confined to the mostly black town of Ferguson—not today, not yesterday, not ever.
It is our national problem that police officers, sheriff's deputies, state troopers, and federal agents kill people. They torture people and beat them bloody. And they're not just killing, torturing, or beating "bad guys."
They're killing people who resemble a bad guy, who have the same name as a bad guy, who happen to be where the cops thought the bad guy would be. They're killing and injuring friends and family members of people they suspect to be bad guys. They're killing and injuring bystanders. Sometimes it's premeditated, sometimes it's driven by impulse.
Policework on US streets, especially in our desperate cities and first-tier suburbs, is difficult. It induces a kind of official paranoia. Officers can't put on enough body armor to feel safe. They frequently cannot tell whether the person they're dealing with is armed, has mental health problems, or both. The "safe" approach is to draw your gun before being drawn upon. For some reason, whether owing to experience or a lot of bad TV cop shows, it's easy to fall prey to thinking that a black or brown guy is armed and dangerous.
To invoke an old liberal shibboleth, "Society is to blame." These are the results of the society we have created in the US: competition over cooperation, self-reliance over community, scarcity over abundance (because scarcity is more profitable). This nation "freed" millions of slaves in 1865, only to let the South find new ways to re-enslave them—and then to grow beyond its boundaries. (Did anyone actually get the promised Forty Acres and a Mule? What would those acres be worth now, with 150 years' interest tacked on?)
Race relations in the US are improving year by year, especially among the young, even more so in multicultural spots like Houston. But we still have people of color whose families have been poor for generations; who own their homes free and clear but cannot afford property taxes; who could sell those homes at a decent profit but would have no affordable housing nearby to move into.
These people live with the side-effects of racism every day.
In case anyone forgot, it isn't just black and brown folks who get killed by cops too eager to use their weapons, especially here in Houston.
Let me conclude by planting a song in your head.