The Ferguson syndrome includes many parts and complicated issues. One of the major issues is the role of police forces in working with minority communities and individuals. Mr. Obama called to my mind a fundamental aspect of community policing when he made reference to the importance of communication, involvement and concern for those who live in areas of poverty and limited opportunity. He especially pointed to young black men who are not only experiencing unemployment and underemployment but also an epidemic of harassment, arrest and incarceration, and even death at the hands of some police. He did make it plain that our first responders in police departments are generally committed public servants who do their jobs well, and protect and defend as they are called to do. But he also reminded us that we must listen to the grievances and concerns of minorities and that we must act. He also said that what makes his efforts different than those of the past is that the President is putting the power of his office behind this effort.
3) Disorder generally began with rock and bottle throwing and window breaking. Once store windows were broken, looting usually followed.
4) Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single “triggering” incident. Instead it was generated out of an increasingly disturbed social atmosphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Afro-American community with a reservoir of underlying grievances. At some point in the mounting tension, a further incident – in itself often routine or trivial – became the breaking point and the tension spilled over into violence.
5) In almost half the cases, police actions were the ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence. No particular control tactic was successful in every situation. The varied effectiveness of control techniques emphasizes the need for advance training, planning, adequate intelligence systems, and knowledge of the minority community.
6) The typical rioter was a teenager or young adult, a lifelong resident of the city in which he rioted, a high school dropout and was usually unemployed or employed in a menial job. He was proud of his race, extremely hostile to both whites and middle-class Blacks, and, although informed about politics, highly distrustful of the political system. Most rioters were young Black males and nearly 53% of arrestees were between 15 and 24 years old.
7) What the rioters appeared to be seeking was fuller participation in the social order and the material benefits enjoyed by the majority of American citizens. Rather than rejecting the system, they were anxious to obtain a place in it for themselves. Counter rioters (generally better educated and with higher income) tried to get rioters to “cool it.”
8) The number of Blacks represented in local government was substantially smaller than the Afro-American proportion of the population. Only three of the 20 cities had more than one Black legislator; none had a Black Mayor or City Manager. Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this was typically regarded by Blacks as ineffective and generally ignored.
- Police practices
- Unemployment and underemployment
- Inadequate housing
- Inadequate education
- Poor recreation facilities and programs
- Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms
- Disrespectful white attitudes
- Discriminatory administration of justice
- Inadequacy of federal programs – the result of a three-city survey indicated that despite substantial expenditures, the number of persons assisted constituted only a fraction of those in need
- Inadequacy of municipal services
- Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
- Inadequate welfare programs
- The most fundamental is the racial attitude and behavior of most White Americans toward African-Americans. Racial prejudice has shaped our history decisively and threatens our future. Racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture that has been accumulating in our cities since the end of WWII. Some ingredients include:
- pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing resulting in the exclusion of great numbers of Blacks from the benefits of economic progress
- Black in-migration and White exodus producing a massive and growing concentration of impoverished Blacks in our major cities and a growing crisis of deteriorating facilities and services and unmet human needs
- Black “ghettos” is where segregation and poverty converge on the young to destroy opportunity and enforce (and re-enforce) failure. Crime, drug addiction, dependency on welfare, bitterness and resentment against society in general and white society in particular are the result
- At the same time, most whites and some Blacks outside the “ghettos” have prospered and through our ever-present media, this affluence has been flaunted before the eyes of the poor and jobless inner city residents
- Social and economic conditions in the riot cities constituted a clear pattern of severe disadvantage for Blacks compared with Whites, whether the Blacks lived in the area where riots took place or outside it. Blacks had completed fewer years of education and fewer had attended high school. Blacks were twice as likely to be unemployed and three times as likely to be in unskilled and service jobs, and were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty. Although housing cost Blacks relatively more, they had worse housing – three times as likely to be overcrowded and substandard. When compared to white suburbs, the disadvantage is even more pronounced.
- Frustrated hopes are the residue of unfulfilled expectations that were aroused by great legislative and judicial victories of the Civil Rights Movement, and other struggles for Rights that have characterized those times right up to the present. Whites often point to the “strides that have been made” in race relations. The reality is that the small “strides” are offset by the enormous disadvantages and built-in prejudices that Whites do not experience in their daily lives. The unfulfilled expectations for Blacks are very real to them, and generally hidden or ignored or unknown to Whites.
- There is a climate that tends toward approval and encouragement of violence as a legitimate form of protest created by white militarism and terrorism directed against nonviolent protests. My Comment: Violence is a tricky matter. The violence we see occur out of non-violent protests is usually the only violence considered as such, and is the most condemned. What is ignored by the White community in general is the accumulation of violence created by white-imposed systemic systems and techniques of control and discrimination in the form of harassment of young Black men and others by the police (“stop & frisk” for no reason other than racial profiling); a lack of, or insufficient protection and aid from authorities when they are called to assist in the “Black community; the excessive incarceration of people of color; exclusion from white power bases like unions or business guilds and organizations, and local legislative bodies; exclusion from suburban housing; from good schools, from holding municipal or state office whether elected or appointed; the lack of adequate transportation, health care, adequate and nutritious foods – the list goes on and on. This pervasive form of white power structure violence goes on every day, all day in most of the Black sections of our cities and towns. Instead of addressing the causes of such violence, whites see a boiling pan of water and put a lid over it to hide it, wondering why the lid explodes when the boiling water has reached a certain point.
- The frustration of powerlessness leads some in the Black communities to a strong conviction that there is no way to move the white power “system” except through violent protest. The inability to find an effective means by which to voice grievances and basic needs is often reflected in an alienation from and hostility toward institutions of law and government. In contrast, when whites have a grievance or problem, they expect to be heard and that the underlying problem will be acted upon and resolved satisfactorily by our governing representatives and officials.
- To some Blacks, the police and justice systems have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. When Blacks are treated unfairly and unjustly – remember actions speak louder than words – by the police and the justice system, it serves only to reinforce the widespread belief amongst the Black community that there is a double standard of justice and protection – one for Blacks and another for Whites. The grand jury decisions not to indict in Ferguson and Staten Island are visible symbols of that double standard to the Black community.
The Kerner Commission report recognized that the black/white race divide was largely an economic divide and proposed mainly economic policies to meet this social problem. Their policy prescription included:
· providing federal assistance to all schools that worked to end de facto segregation;
· offering federal funding for year-round compensatory education programs serving disadvantaged children;
· developing a uniform national welfare standard to bring everyone's income up to the poverty line; and
· building six million new and renovated units of housing for low and moderate income families.