It took a crazy week of photo’s, tweets, and ground-up response to get people to realize the situation, and create response to it. The result was the county police were replaced by the highway patrol (typically better trained); the military and police weapons were left in their lockers; and an ad hoc person-of-color police chief walked with the protestors.
Witnesses described how the entire attitude changed from rage, fear, and loathing to a block-party atmosphere where people were taking selflies with cops and the police looked relaxed and even participatory in their fulfillment to allow people to protest peacefully.
With at least three most-likely unjustified killings of people in a week this was a welcome change. Those of us who followed along on social media could finally sleep. Was my rest justified? I am not sure. Will this create change or be lost?
Racism is so systemic it’s hard to acknowledge baby steps as useful. I have to be grateful for what does happen to the positive? I have to replace my cynicism that it was peaceful because citizens were near ecstatic to be free from teargas and tanks coming their way they’d just about do anything? I have to think that community organization, peacemaking skills, and activities of respect and care were genuine, not tactical and temporary?
While libertarians were pathetically silent for a week, when they did finally raise their pundit heads they too spoke against militarization and excessive government interference in protests. Finally, except for those too racist or authoritarian to care, there was a collective demand for change. The president spoke in whispers but nevertheless expressed his position towards legal, constitutional, and humane ways of dealing with protesting people. People who were justifiably angry at the police recalcitrance to be transparent about their activities, much less show concern to the reaction.
I have written how modern Euro-American slavery and racism were different from the past. In short. Until the advent of colonialism slavery was of conquered people, most often women and children, and not based on color of the skin. The commonality of a Greek or Persian enslaving another person of the same color was more easy to remediate; it still took a coupled thousand of years. No doubt this racism of skin color was very much encouraged (caused?) by the patriarchal, authoritarian, and xenophobic positions of Abrahamic religions. This makes it very difficult to eliminate racism.
But I am getting distracted. What can we learn from this.
Racism is alive and well in America. If you don’t get this… hmm … I am not posting statistics and recounts of extreme and everyday examples. Let Ferguson be the example for now.
Protesting is a positive tradition in America. From the individualist Thoreau’s Conscientious Civil Disobedience, to the union Homestead Steel Strike, to activist Rosa Parks our history is filled with protesting on all levels. Indeed, the very fabric of this began with stealing and tossing tea into the ocean, (an act the Tea party has stolen and misused.)
For those who allow oppressive responses because of looting, remember our country was founded on acts of looting. From John Smith capturing Native Americans to make them provide them food to modern corporations stealing labor value.
Taxation without representation is wrong. The incredible disparity between those who pay taxes and appropriate representation is astounding. What I mean is every political office should have equal representation of taxpayers.
Civil protests are not war. The ease with which humans can turn on each other is astounding. It has been tempting to say this has been for economics but invasions have often occurred for ego, greed, and blind aggression. A civil protest is not an invasion. Protestors are your family, your friends, and your citizens, who seek change, not destruction. We are all equal brothers and sisters in our democracy.
Tear gas, illegal in war, and militarization of the police is not only counterproductive and inhumane, it is illegal–war can only be declared by the president or the congress.
A republic representative represents its constituents. Representatives must be mindful of helping their members understand constitutionality, law, and due process (a triple redundancy.) Local governments follow suit with administration reflecting the demographics of their jurisdiction.
US constitutional democracy protects the rights and participation of the people. Martin Luther King reflected that every refrigerator should display the Bill of Rights. This is the glorious balance against tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the minority. These rights and philosophies insist on equality of representation regardless. The constitution is boring in its detail of voting process to ensure equality. Adjustment has been needed as racism and other inequities have slipped through its cracks. An example of this is gerrymandering where voting districts do not represent the people within.
In Ferguson, there were 53 police, three of whom were people of color. The mayor and police chief were white. Ferguson is 70% people of color, 50% women.
Both Senators are white. One of them is a woman. Missouri is 83% white and 51% female. However, since minority rights are protected and to be represented, even on the state level, concern and even deference must be made to nonwhites. It would seem obvious the goal of 50% of politicians over all levels should be women and one of five nonwhite.
Political education, including gender and minority, is essential. An uninformed public cannot vote effectively. The government cannot demand that all senators and congressmen be 50% women or 12% POC, to reflect demographics, education must inculcate, yes I mean inculcate, the foundational thinking of our governance. It would seem obvious but since it is not there must be education and if necessary adjustments to balance. Equal Opportunity tried to do this, and the Equal Rights Amendment failed for all the wrong reasons.
Yes, equal divisions may not wish to run for office. This is not a wall but an indication of the ongoing need to structure politics and education to ensure representation.
These are political basics. Drilling down to political and human ethics there are several social and psychological processes we can learn from Ferguson.
Use no more police force than necessary. The overwhelming display of power and force by the Ferguson police created a pushback that could not possibly be equal except by theft and violence. Thank goodness more protesters were not armed, or chose to leave them at home. Raising hands was a brilliant display of cool headedness to demonstrate the desire for peaceful protest. If the police had responded likewise Ferguson might have been diffused.
Part of force is psychological. Had the police immediately suspended the offending officer, revealed his name, or admitted they might have done something wrong, or displayed efforts to remediation, the people might have trusted what justice could be done in a still racist society.
Understanding and countering the biases and prejudices in people helps clarify positions and create agreement.
Peacemaking skills are essential to police training and conflict resolution.
At the end of the week what prevented more deaths in Ferguson was the protestors stuck with peacefulness and the police began to use peacemaking skills. That along with a lot of outside pissed people demanding change.
As anger and retaliation escalates the appropriate response is to yield, find common ground, and demonstrate respect and care. The goal always is to lower levels of anger to create paths of communication and empathy both ways, towards change.
While weaponry may be essential it is the absolute last response. A person seeing a weapon aimed at them may see they have nothing left to lose to gain freedom and respond the only way they can, creating harm for themselves and others. Far better to not trap people and provide an exit.
This respect includes the trust that one person is not superior to another. By showing this, people will return respect. Was saving the face of a police officer worth the response? The officer involved expressed regret early on but this was hidden. In restorative justice, versus the too typical punitive justice, immediate communication and action to concern, care, and compassion gains valuable time and immediate response to concerns.
Understanding that long felt prejudices, whether you understand them or not, create hostility and what may seem inappropriate responses, shows willingness to listen and negotiate. Enfranchising people and empowering discourse creates a sense of safety that calms everyone down and allows all to participate.
Understanding that citizens are not trying to destroy their country lends tolerance of protesting and conscientious civil disobedience. The need for change and its expression is not always pleasant. Escalating that to a fear for public safety shutdowns all communication but the expressions of anger and violent demands for change.
Peacemaking skills acknowledge there will be disagreements, strong disagreements, and even, potentially, civil war. Peacemaking skills do not deny the importance of the disagreement and its passion but seek to create an environment of trust and care where both parties can communicate effectively towards a mutual goal or process.
This does not mean whitewashing or shoving issues under the table which can result in even greater pushback. It means providing some immediate satisfaction while working to long term solutions. It means allowing people to express themselves, taking the time to listen.
A common example of this, consider you have a car accident and kill someone. The one side feels you have killed a family member. You may have done it by accident or negligence. The common way is to not communicate and let the police and courts decide. A better way would be to immediately show remorse, empathy, support, and help participate in remediation long before the court dates where rage and defensiveness have festered, often for months, creating an entrenched view that will last a lifetime. Maybe help to pay for the funeral or other expenses. Stay away if that’s requested.
Since this process is difficult without intervention, the police, firemen, and rescue staff must be trained in interpersonal communication and effective negotiation. Community leaders can act as liaisons and facilitators.
That this failed in Ferguson is evidenced by the overwhelming response by many military and policemen that what went down was the worst possible response.
For myself, I am glad more people didn’t die. I encourage all of you to continue to fight racism on all levels, including, at least, everyday actions like eye contact, courtesy, and criticism of racist talk and actions.
Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com