I think we finally have had enough. Enough sad, weather-tattered teddy bears strapped to lampposts. Enough teary candle lit vigils that fail to touch the heart of those who caused the pain. Enough indifferent police officers leaving the bullet ravaged innocent bodies of our babies lying in the streets uncovered. Enough.
And so this time, this time, when another police officer emptied his gun into the back of a fleeing, unarmed African-American teen, the ground in the St. Louis region began to shake. This time there was fire. This time anger took form.
Some in our region have characterized the moment when the ground shook as a night of vandalism and looting.
They are wrong and don’t be distracted.
The chief of police in Ferguson has also weighed in. According to the chief, the fires that were lit in Ferguson on Sunday can best be understood by separating the folks at the Mike Brown vigil into “good” protesters and the bad “outsiders.”
He is wrong and don’t be distracted.
Fact is we simply can no longer afford to waste time engaged in defense or apology about a fire that burned a building. Because every moment we do so is a moment spent looking away from the tinder that feeds the flame and the match that ignited it.
The St. Louis region has never honestly addressed the issue of race, racism and the demonization of African Americans. And now the region is feeling the impact of this color based neglect.
It has been reported that the Ferguson police department has 53 cops and all but three are White. For a city that is over 70 percent African-American a minuscule 5 percent presence on the police force is beyond outrageous. This statistic reveals how little the chief of police is concerned about African-American contributions and African-American presence.
What the chief should already know is how this awful statistic goes a long way in explaining the results of the State of Missouri’s “Driving While Black” report. According to the findings in the report, African Americans in Ferguson are twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested as White drivers – tinder for the flame.
If you want to look at the demonization of African-American people in our region, one only need look at the response of the City of St. Charles to the possible transfer of Normandy’s African-American students.
Well over a thousand White citizens gathered and worried out loud about increased crime and decreased property values if the transfers went through. As if a gapped-toothed 2nd grader smelling of cocoa butter and bubble gum could cause a downward spiral of property values.
And yet there was scant regional discussion about the weight and the impact of this unaddressed bigoted world view. It seemed as if our region was in agreement that the presence of African-American children in a public school classroom has a negative social, educational and financial impact – tinder for the flame.
Monday night the national NAACP came to our region and held a forum to discuss the killing of Mike Brown. The coverage of the event was surreal.
At the same time news reporters were showing viewers live video of police-barricaded highways and blocked streets that prevented access to the event, a representative from the Ferguson Police Department spoke on camera claiming there were no efforts by the police to prevent citizens from attending the meeting – tinder for the flame.
Yes, there was a fire in Ferguson, but don’t get lost looking at that flame. The unjustified police killing of Mike Brown was the match, and the unresolved, generations-old issues of race and racism continue to feed the flame. And until we are brave enough and honest enough to tackle these issues, the fires will continue to burn – one way or another.
Lizz Brown is an attorney, award-winning radio talk show host and political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @lizzzbrown.