Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Just another episode?

    Scenes that have been acted out in Ferguson, Mo., are hardly unique in America’s racial story. If we had truly been looking, we could have seen it com-ing.
    The death of Michael Brown is just one of many incidents between police and young black males around the country that tragically have crossed a deadly line. The aftermath in Missouri seems little different than what happened in Watts in 1965 or in the major urban riots of 1967.
    Political leaders likely soon will be do-ing what they usually do in these kinds of situations. They will call for a study. After the urban riots of the late 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson formed the Kerner Commission to find out why. The conclu-sion: The nation was moving toward two societies, one black and one white, sepa-rate and unequal.
    Very little has been done to change the community dynamics in many American cities since. The racial divide seems as deep as ever, and there’s great uncertainty about whether that division is inevitable.
    Change will not come easily to Ferguson. Two-thirds of its residents are black. Its mayor and five of six City Coun-cil members are white. Only three of the town’s 53 police officers are black. So far, there has been some limited examination of the imbalance on the police force—but none about the elected leadership.
    Following Brown’s killing, Atlantic magazine described Ferguson’s leaders as “egregiously incompetent” in their re-sponse. They allowed the development of a law enforcement environment in which “Help, police” became a cry for help from whites and a cry of fear from blacks.
    Rather than focus on firepower, protec-tive gear and riot control, local police offi-cers, no matter what their race, must de-velop personal relationships with all parts of their communities. That expectation must start with the elected officials who set their community’s policing standards. Voters must hold both accountable.
    The length and intensity of demonstra-tions in Ferguson show how much Ameri-can communities still need leaders who can close the gap between intention and performance in creating an equal society. Anything less will make Ferguson just another episode in our long racial soap opera.

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