24 August 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

If I have had very little to say about Ferguson on my blog these past two weeks, it is largely because others (most notably The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates) have said anything I might say here better than I can, and because I find myself somewhat unqualified to discuss it, since the police generally put on a different public demeanour and comportment for me than they would for a black man of my age and build. But it has to be discussed. There is no other choice.

An eighteen-year-old kid was gunned down, shot six times in broad daylight by a police officer. His body was left uncovered and unmoved from the crime scene for hours, as the members of the Ferguson community looked on. No report was made of the shooting – the only report to dispatch was to call for crowd control. When the protests of the shooting began – largely peaceful, but with some looting and vandalism of local businesses as night fell – the response of the Ferguson police was to crack down with military-grade hardware, armoured vehicles and police dogs, firing rubber bullets, sonic cannons and tear gas into the crowd.

Several observers (including Julie Bosman and Emma Fitzsimmons at the New York Times) pointed out that such tactic some off looking like enforcement of Jim Crow circa 1964, rather than anything fit for American society in 2014. However, the difficulty of saying so is that, even acknowledging the massive gains of the Civil Rights movement, our underlying race-relational dynamic remains depressingly unchanged. Black bodies are treated as property subject to the total domination of the state in ways which white ones are not, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has astutely observed: even if it is only the extremity of a society which has a long and entrenched history of expressing that libido dominandi in subtler ways (‘friskings, detainings, beatings and humiliations’), the final end of that libido dominandi in the destruction of the black body is nevertheless something which must be reckoned with. As Coates notes, the police are ‘the tip of the sword wielded by American society itself’.

I wish I could disagree. But as I have watched events and commentary unfold (one illustrative example being that material support for Michael Brown’s killer has now outstripped material support for Michael Brown’s family, and for reasons which are – understatedly – less than admirable), it is very, very hard to do so. When one man kills another in my church, even if it is by accident or with justifiable cause (including in wartime or in self-defence), it is customary and expected for him, as recommended by our Holy Father of the Church S. Basil the Great, to express contrition by abstaining from the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist for three years. I will not demand that the officers of the Ferguson police force hold themselves to the same standards as members of the canonical Orthodox churches (and even if they are members, it’s between them and their spiritual fathers and therefore none of my business), but I cannot help but shudder in fear and in outrage when I behold the utter, deafening dearth of such contrition from the Ferguson police and from the supporters of Darren Wilson. Regardless of the motives, it speaks volumes, and none of it good, that our society has shown measurably greater empathy for a killer more than it does for his unarmed victim.

This is not even to approach the topics of police militarisation, of the ill-treatment of the American press (much as they may wilfully suck at their jobs in ways which Upton Sinclair would have appreciated, they still are and ought to be subject to certain protections) or of the Calvinist-flavoured class dynamics underlying and reinforcing the racial ones. But police brutality aimed largely against black men is, firstly and foremostly an issue touching upon the innate dignity of human life, and ought to be approached as such by our political and spiritual leaders. It is an issue of overriding moral importance.

No comments:

Post a Comment