So, I went to the Ferguson Police Department in the afternoon. People stood in groups discussing next best steps and protesting the lack of information about the shooting released by the police. According to one police officer, the day's events had been peaceful and geared towards dialogue. Community members discussed their rights with public officials:
"If you're black and conscious, it's always bubbling".
Later that evening, a candlelight vigil began in peace as hundreds showed up at the scene of Michael Brown's death to share their grief and anger. I didn't attend this vigil, but according to a friend that I re-connected with at the earlier protest, it was heartfelt and peaceful.
As the night progressed, police officers arrived with dogs, creating a sense of distrust in a community that was already broken. Try to imagine what that felt like: You are grief stricken and trying to express your long-held anger peacefully. Dogs arrive, and police form a line that you can't cross, and suddenly its clear: You're the enemy. These police officers think you're the problem.
There has been a lot of discussion of what this looting meant for the larger cause of protesting Brown's death, but I'm more interested in the question about where this rage came from. This pain didn't erupt from nowhere. We can critique its expression till we run out of breath, but our world will never change until we can grapple with its origin: racism, both structural and personal. One author has called this "the real looting of Ferguson".
Deny individuals access to capitalism's benefits for long enough and they might take them. Tell people that they are scary long enough and they might scare you. Systematically make an entire race of people tired, sad, and angry for centuries and they might act in ways you can't rationalize. In a previous post I highlighted the progression of white flight in Ferguson, and there is no denying that racial tensions are high in St. Louis, especially in the northern suburbs of St. Louis County. Recently, journalists have begun to uncover just how fraught the area is, highlighting the daily harassment of black citizens, an experience you can't feel if it isn't happening to you. I could certainly feel the tensions as I grew up in a community experiencing its own white flight, and I can't imagine what it felt like to be not only aware of the tension but consistently punished for it.
I may not be able to know what that tiredness, sadness, and anger feel like under the skin, but I can begin to ask more of my community.