Ferguson, Missouri: Make Black lives matter

The Caribbean Camera refuses to simply resign itself to the idea that the race relations climate in the U.S. will not improve significantly in the next three or four generations.

The hopelessness and the indifference, the militancyand the rage that have characterized large segments of that country’s Black community do not produce viable options by themselves. Our neighbor to the south needs to take the important first step in a somewhat different strategy to address the challenge of making Black lives matter.

As frustration turned into successive nights of violent protests, arson, looting, numerous arrests and strong police and military action, one is reminded of the poignant lyrics of calypsonian The Mighty Duke: “How many more must die? How many more?”

Dwayne Morgan, our eminent poet and spoken word artist, puts the following powerful words in the mouth of a Black mother who fears the possibility of giving birth to a baby boy and who prays to have a girl instead, in the poem Black Boys which he composed in reaction to the Ferguson verdict:

“Knowing that my best efforts

Can’t keep him alive,

When his existence is a threat,

And we keep burying our future.”

According to St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert Mc Culloch, the grand jury that considered whether (white) police officer Darren Wilson should be charged for shooting (Black) youth Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9 this year, decided that “No probable cause exists for charges to be laid against the police officer.”

Speaking at length to the media and public last Monday night, the prosecutor identified some of the significant issues raised in and coming out of the official investigations:

Wilson was aware of the details of the police report of the alleged robbery at a convenience store including the items allegedly stolen and a description of the suspect(s) and of their clothing; the physical evidence (including specifically the blood stains) supports the idea that Brown was close to the police vehicle in which  Wilson was seated; all three autopsies, including the one arranged by Brown’s family, produced significantly similar results, especially to the effect that Brown was shot “from close up”; witnesses gave conflicting accounts of whether the youth had physically or verbally threatened and/or aggressed the officer, and the witnesses who testified that the youth charged at the officer twice were Black.

However, the fact is that any grand jury verdict that did not result in the officer being charged would be felt to be an injustice. Whatever the specifics of this or any other case in the U.S., the obsession with an ingrained pattern of injustice is fuelled by the long-standing and indisputable realities of the high proportion of Black males in the police and court systems, in the jails and in the numbers of victims of police shootings.

The other relevant fact is that race relations in the States cannot be improved without addressing three complications that are more peculiar to that society than to any other society on the face of the Earth.

Large segments of the population do not believe in the ethical principle of joint efforts for the collective good but prefer to give each individual as much freedom, right and responsibility to better himself/herself and his/her family as possible. Consequently, those same segments strongly believe that taxation for that purpose is not justified and is unfair to taxpayers in general.

Therefore, they condemn the principle of governmental intervention to even the playing field and to provide equal opportunity to all, including the needy, the sick and the children of poor or low-income families.

So what is to be the important first step in a somewhat different strategy? Without yielding to the temptation to portray Michael Brown as yet another martyr in the cause of equal rights and Black emancipation, the people and the U.S. federal government will do well to adopt the arguments that many groups and individuals including The Camera have advanced in Canada for long-term solutions to burning issues of our aboriginal peoples.

What is required is a mechanism to identify, categorize and recommend a structured national agenda to address race relations in the U.S. This has to be a permanent, non-partisan institution that includes in its board of directors non-political representatives of all levels of government, community organizations, as well as a significant number of independent persons appointed in their individual capacities.

The U.S. cannot escape its responsibility to set up such a permanent mechanism endowed with the appropriate mandate, the funding and the staff to manage on an ongoing basis this massive, centuries-old package of challenges.

In that regard, President Barack Obama has a golden opportunity and a period of two years to make another historic difference in American history by supporting efforts to unleash the greater potential of the whole society: the social, economic and political progress of that country will benefit greatly from concrete and substantive measures to erase the bloody stain that tarnishes its national and international image – hopelessness and indifference, militancy and rage born of racial discrimination.

Americans can make Black lives matter. Yes, they can!