They came from near and far, for many reasons. Some for opportunism, some for possibilities.
Over the past two weeks, many people descended on Ferguson, Missouri mostly, it seemed, to stoke the fires of resentment and divisiveness. Anger and hostility escalated. Finally, some calm has settled and reason seems to have broken out, and it deserves some keen attention.
Over the weekend, people who represented different sides of the racial battle/political debate began saying sort of the same things. Or maybe someone on one side would see that both sides actually agreed on what they wanted, though they were going about it so differently, that fundamental plea wasn’t being heard.
One moment I recall this being crystallized was when Dr. Ben Carson said on one of his many appearances on Fox News that he would welcome a discussion with Al Sharpton, who had been agitating all over the media from Ferguson for racial and social justice causes using the usual slogans, and Carson calmly said he would ask Sharpton ‘what is it that you want?’ That struck me as a good and direct potential encounter. ‘What do you want to happen? What solution are you looking for? What do you want?’
Meanwhile, I saw this piece on National Review Online and thought it reasonable and clarifying.
I’m always looking for areas where the Left and the Right can agree on a policy reform, even if it is for different reasons. One has emerged from the tragedy of Ferguson, Mo. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, many blamed some portion of the tension there on the striking racial gap between the police force, which is 94 percent white, and Ferguson’s African-American population, which makes up two-thirds of the city. Not only the police force but also the rest of the local power structure in Ferguson is dominated by whites.
Ferguson has seen enormous demographic change in the last 20 years, with the percentage of its black population growing from 25 percent to 67 percent. But five of its six city council members are still white, as is the mayor. The school board has six white members and one Hispanic.
One reason for the disparity is that, like many cities, Ferguson holds stand-alone elections for local offices in the spring of odd-numbered years when nothing else is on the ballot. Voter turnout is abysmal — 7 percent of black voters compared with 17 percent of white voters. By way of contrast, 54 percent of blacks and 55 percent of whites voted in the 2012 presidential election in Ferguson.
Existing power structures like this arrangement because it greatly favors incumbents, who can continue to dominate local bodies despite demographic change. Jeff Smith, a former Democratic state senator in Missouri who now teaches urban policy, writes that “overwhelmingly white-constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements” and that these unions operate potent voter-turnout machines that overwhelm black challengers. “The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund reelection campaigns. Construction, waste, and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side, and, usually, the work force as well.”
Low voter turnout for off-year local elections is a problem nationwide. In Los Angeles, fewer than 12 percent of voters participated in the recent race for mayor. Policy reformers and racial minorities are among those hurt by the perpetuation of this incumbent-friendly status quo.
This is not a minor matter. It’s a major one. The disparity in representative government and positions of authority in the community that both are supposed to serve is a growing problem.
Liberals now have a reason to join conservatives in supporting a reformed election calendar. As Ian Millhiser of the liberal ThinkProgress website puts it: “Through a simple rescheduling measure, Ferguson’s black residents could permanently reshape their city’s electoral landscape so that its leaders are chosen by an electorate that more closely resembles Ferguson as a whole.”
Then on Sunday, on Fox News Sunday, Dr. Ben Carson had the chance for an encounter not with Al Sharpton, but his counterpart Jesse Jackson. I watched it, listened carefully, and was impressed with the power of persuasion of clarity with charity.
Chris Wallace pressed Jackson on his remarks that the shooting death was a “state execution.” Jackson said that the 18-year-old was shot six times and was unarmed.
But Wallace noted that reports say Brown was charging at the officer and may have hit him in the face.
“If we don’t know,” he asked, “why are we declaring a verdict?”
“It seems to me the police act as judge, jury and executioner,” Jackson said.
Carson stressed that the issues are much bigger and cannot be resolved in a short segment. Still, he said, “I’m not sure this is a police versus black community issue.”
Then an unexpected moment came, watch it if you can click on the exchange in the link.
Carson recalled his youth, during which he said he had anger issues and even tried to stab someone.
“If you take race out of the issue altogether and you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they’re very likely to end up as victims of violence or incarceration. It has nothing to do with race,” he said. However, he noted that there are problems with race in America – yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Jackson maintained that there is a race dimension to the story.
“It seems to me that when blacks kill whites – which is rare – it’s swift justice. When whites kill blacks, it’s rebellion. When it’s black on black, there’s shrug of the shoulder, a kind of permissiveness,” he said.
Carson said people must get involved in the process and start voting.
Which gets back to the good point John Fund made in NRO, cited above. That’s moving the ball forward, that’s getting social stagnation somewhere, pointing to the process of resolution of social problems.
Carson went on in this pivotal moment.
He also said that what changed him was that his mother made him read books, and he read about people of accomplishment.
“What I came to understand is that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life, it’s you. It’s not the environment and it’s not somebody else. […] we must re-instill the can-do attitude in America not the ‘what can you do for me’ what ‘have you done for me’ attitude,” Carson said.
He also wound up saying he believes that he and Jackson were, essentially, saying and wanting the same things. Which kindly and gently returned to the point Carson made, days before, about wanting to ask Al Sharpton what do you want to happen? In this exchange with Jackson, it sort of came out.
And then the funeral of Michael Brown brought together a lot of people calling for change, but calmly and reasonably. There were local residents, prominent celebrities, members of Congress, representatives of the White House, civil rights leaders.
And the often polarizing, agitating, angry and unreasonable Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a eulogy that surprised a lot of folks with its reasonableness and frankness.
After a demand for broad reforms in American policing, Sharpton changed course to address his black listeners directly. “We’ve got to be straight up in our community, too,” he said. “We have to be outraged at a 9-year-old girl killed in Chicago. We have got to be outraged by our disrespect for each other, our disregard for each other, our killing and shooting and running around gun-toting each other, so that they’re justified in trying to come at us because some of us act like the definition of blackness is how low you can go.”
“Blackness has never been about being a gangster or a thug,” Sharpton continued. “Blackness was, no matter how low we was pushed down, we rose up anyhow.”
Sharpton went on to describe blacks working to overcome discrimination, to build black colleges, to establish black churches, to succeed in life. “We never surrendered,” Sharpton said. “We never gave up. And now we get to the 21st century, we get to where we’ve got some positions of power. And you decide it ain’t black no more to be successful. Now, you want to be a n—– and call your woman a ‘ho.’ You’ve lost where you’re coming from.”
The cameras cut to director Spike Lee, on his feet applauding enthusiastically. So were Martin Luther King III, radio host Tom Joyner, and, judging by video coverage, pretty much everyone else in the church. They kept applauding when Sharpton accused some blacks of having “ghetto pity parties.” And they applauded more when Sharpton finally declared: “We’ve got to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America!”
This was a different Al Sharpton. A new day. Not only a mention but a confrontation with problems blacks face but some refuse to face, and a calling out to everyone concerned to deal squarely with what’s wrong and what it would take to make it right.
I have addressed this time and again on radio, with respected authorities on social justice, inner city communities dealing with crime, violence, lack of educational resources, aid to families or barely subsisting relatives without intact families, legal experts, and heroic clergy and church organizations serving those communities. And will again this week.