The ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri is a sobering reminder of the state of racial relations in the United States, and of the out-of-control militarization of our police force. But I fear that the real tragedy of Ferguson is that it’s destined to become nothing more than a momentary blip on the radar of history, one that, despite the historically agonizing cries of “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” will result in no meaningful change. Here’s some of why I fear that:
- The social, economic, cultural and racial issues now writ so large in Ferguson are systemic. No single protest can release the nearly 1 million black males currently in prison. No one protest can change the poverty rate for blacks being more than twice that of whites. As media unfriendly as it is, the plain truth is that resolving the problems that caused the situation in Ferguson will take comprehensive and long-term approaches.
- The power resides with the status quo. America’s rich, white, male power structure has the time and the resources to withstand any siege such as the Ferguson protests. Just ask the “one percent” how well the Occupy Wall Street protests worked.
- The real revolution won’t be televised. Night after night powerful images are coming out of Ferguson, helping to reinforce a narrative that is ultimately as destructive as anything happening there. Images of protestors throwing back tear gas canisters, of police officers dressed in full military garb and clearly ready to kill, and of reporters valiantly trying to document the mayhem make for gripping segments on the evening news. But what happens when the channel changes, when we turn off our smartphones, when we log off of Facebook and Twitter? True revolution isn’t something we watch. It’s something we do.
- For all of the attention now being paid him, Michael Brown is ultimately just another in an unthinkably long line of such victims. On average, police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially kill a black person every 28 hours. A few of these tragedies garner the fickle glare of the media spotlight. The vast majority of them don’t. A few months from now, when the anger of Ferguson has faded, the media will serve us up, as the tragedy de’jour, yet another black person tragically caught in the crosshairs of oppression and injustice. Nothing will have changed.
I hope that I am being too pessimistic. I hope the events in Ferguson do represent a watershed moment in American history, a social and cultural turning point, a true shift in the landscape of American life. I hope that the seed of lasting and meaningful change will blossom from Ferguson. But if history is any guide, which it almost always is, then Ferguson will much too soon fade from our attention, while the problems it evinced will remain.
Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and lives with two cats.