Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself by writing a presumptuous summation of the turmoil roiling the streets of suburban St. Louis. After all, it’s been less than a fortnight since the fateful moment when a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. How can I be certain this event and its immediate aftermath will yield historical significance?
Well, I can’t. Yet I’m compelled to look ahead, hoping there is greater meaning in the death, destruction, and despair of today’s news. The future has to be better. So I trust that what’s happening in the street-level conflicts and clashes in Ferguson are the birthing pains of a new American social order, one that will be more inclusive of all voices and not defined exclusively by predominately white political, economic or military wishes.
Instead, a swelling number of inchoate groups of Americans disproportionately young, poor, and living in neglected communities are challenging, confronting, and confounding the status quo. They are demanding to the point of violent protest to have their voices heard and their complaints addressed. This isnt pretty or comfortable to witness or live through. Yet it is necessary to get us to a higher, better place as a nation.
As has happened so frequently in U.S. history when strong-armed policing has provoked outrage in black and other ethnic-minority communities, Ferguson has erupted nightly since the shooting into spasms of violent protests for a host of past and present, real and rumored community grievances. Late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning, which began and ended in relative calm compared to the previous nine nights, some 47 people were reported to have been arrested by police, who for the first night since the demonstrations began, didn’t fire tear gas to subdue protesters.
Additionally, a grand jury began hearing evidence yesterday to determine whether prosecutors will charge Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, with violating any laws in the shooting and whether he should face charges ranging from manslaughter to murder. Late last week, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson identified Wilson as the police officer who fired the fatal bullets, and a private autopsy performed by a federal investigator showed Brown was shot six times, including twice in the head.
It's critical to understand that the protests in the streets are over something larger than yet another premature death of a teenager, despite the angering circumstances of a police officer shooting him. Those facts certainly ignited and even escalated the community’s outrage, but they didn’t produce it.
Like the nation itself, Ferguson has experienced radical racial transformation over the past two decades, and those changes are at the root of the uprisings that have been nightly occurrences for more than a week.
I feel confident enough to venture out onto the shaky limb of prognostication, supported by several ongoing trends that were in motion well before the horrible drama unfolded in Ferguson. Indeed, I find the only surprising thing about what’s happening in Ferguson is the location. The trouble in Missouri could have happened in any number of similar places.
(The above is an excerpt from an article written by Sam Fulwood III. Fulwood is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Director of the CAP Leadership Institute. His work with the Centers Progress 2050 project examines the impact of policies on the nation when there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by the year 2050. The full article can be found on the Center for American Progress' website.)