Given the hyper-charged rhetoric and sheer level of irrationality surrounding the violence in Ferguson, Mo., I suppose we ought to consider ourselves fortunate if the principle lesson drawn from the whole sad affair is there are some people who like to break and throw things and set cars and stores on fire. Because it seems highly unlikely anything that would actually help poor black communities will be allowed to emerge from the ashes of that unfortunate city.
The riots happened in spite of — not due to — the facts coming to light surrounding the August shooting death of Michael Brown (who happens to be black) by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson (who happens to be white). The facts, substantiated by corroborated eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence, suggest that Brown, having just robbed a convenience store, assaulted and attempted to expropriate the weapon of Wilson, who then then shot the assailant. The fact Brown didn’t have a gun is irrelevant. If someone who has just committed a crime punches the police officer dispatched to respond to that crime and grabs for that police officer’s gun, it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that person will be shot for his efforts. Doubly so if that person is considerably bigger and stronger than the police officer in question and charges a second time.
None of this mattered to the mob in Ferguson nor to the sympathy mobs that cropped up around the country. No, to these crowds it was literally a black and white issue — a white police oppressor gunning down a young black man in cold blood.
It’s inescapable that many black communities in America suffer disproportionately from poverty and its attendant social ills. And it’s perhaps understandable that one result of this is anger at the perceived ruling class. But little effort is expended at diagnosing the causes of this state of affairs and even less to workable solutions.
Of all the programs and ideas instituted over the years to ostensibly help poor black communities, the only one to generate anything approaching success has been the extension of educational opportunities. While most social welfare programs have brought far more harm than benefit to their target groups, the expansion of charter schools within black communities has helped prevent thousands of Michael Browns around the country.
It’s not coincidental the effort bringing the most hope and promise to poorer Americans is the one most independent of government. Nor is it a coincidence that leftist politicians, such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, harbor an almost obsessive loathing of charter schools or anything else even remotely suggestive of school choice, so jealous are they of their grip on education. But until choice and competition are allowed to improve the educational opportunities and chances of a better life for children living in poorer communities, their condition will be perpetuated and more Michael Browns will be the result.
The issue of police brutality and “militarization” also has been resuscitated by these events. It’s difficult to watch the naked aggression of the protesters and simultaneously fail to recognize the need for police to be equipped to adequately respond. Restraint and a community face is laudable and necessary in day-to-day policing within a democratic society, but it has its limits. Politically sensitive restraint seems to have been a factor in preventing police from adequately protecting neighborhoods and businesses in Ferguson.
Police “militarization” is a reaction to the threat faced by police officers. When the bad guys have heavy weapons and bad tempers fueled by drugs, a little armor and firepower for the good guys would seem to be in order.
The impulse must have restrictions, of course. The Department of Agriculture, for instance, doesn’t need its own SWAT team. And certainly many TSA employees oughtn’t be trusted with anything more dangerous than a paper clip. But do we really want our cops to take billy clubs to a gunfight? Al Sharpton and Eric Holder seem to think so.
And so it’s doubtful we’ll take anything substantial from the Ferguson mess. If we do, we’ll undertake a serious national effort to expand school choice and competition to give the Michael Browns of this country a chance at a decent, law-abiding life, instead of blaming the police for the Michael Brown the liberal system created.