Many different angles and explanations have been floated as reasons why the tragic event in Ferguson occurred and will possibly continue to occur which has helped illuminate the view many people have about American society. SGR has made a conscious decision to not pick a side in this horrible situation other than to attempt to report as many facts as possible. However, Mychal Denzel Smith’s recent appearance on MSNBC is important because it explains the way many people on the Left look at the world. The video speaks volumes about why some are unable to accept or even consider the validity of the Grand Jury’s recent decision to not indict Darren Wilson. Smith says in the video below, “What we haven’t dealt with, we refuse to deal with it is the idea, the fact that the foundation of this country is racism and white supremacy. And we are — all of our institutions uphold that.”
There are a lot of problems with this statement. First of all, it hinders our ability to have a rational conversation about how to prevent situations like Ferguson from happening again. It’s the kind of wild inflammatory accusation that distorts the argument and takes energy away from positive conversations such as legislation to ensure that all police officers wear body cams. That alone would have completely changed the way the case was presented. Claiming that “all of our institutions” uphold racism and white supremacy is not only patently false, but it puts an unnecessary burden on those who support the way the judicial system handled this case to prove that the government isn’t racist, when it never was in the first place. Truth is, while we are far from perfect, America is a completely different place than it was in the 18th century and as far as race relations go, that’s a good thing.
Secondly, it is a very lazy argument to claim that American society is still fundamentally racist because slavery existed in America 150 years ago. The list of countries and regions that have no traces of slavery or racial strife in their history is slim to none. Of course slavery is important to remember and the effect it has on the African-American community is very real but that does not justify chalking up this killing to racism. There is no doubt that a disproportionate amount of black men are currently incarcerated in our jails and sentencing reform should be at the top of our nation’s priority list. There is also no doubt that for many African-Americans, life is still very difficult. The biggest problem is that making wild generalizations based on those facts alone is just dishonest. Life is hard for a lot of people in this country and it isn’t necessarily due to race. For example, the majority of people on food stamps are white, not black. This is because poverty is not unique to one race. Cops also kill people of all backgrounds and those killings rarely make national news. It was only a couple years ago that cops murdered (on video) an unarmed white homeless man while he begged for mercy in Fullerton, California. Those officers were all exonerated. There were no riots, the story was barely covered nationally, and the man’s name (Kelly Thomas) is relatively unknown across the country. Arguably, this was a much more egregious example of police brutality, but it wasn’t covered. Why? That’s anyone’s guess. The point is that cops are not actively patrolling the streets looking for black people to kill. This hasn’t stopped commentators from actively implying otherwise, even when the “hands up” version of the Michael Brown killing was seriously discredited by the Grand Jury transcript.
Thirdly, the shooting in Ferguson was by far the exception to the rule as far as homicides in this country are concerned. It is very troubling when citizens are killed by the police but those instances are not the norm. It’s also important to remember that 93% of blacks are killed by blacks and not the police. Violent crimes are why the police are patrolling these areas in the first place. There are many issues that contribute to African-American strife that are far more relevant than slavery such as the breakdown of the nuclear family, struggling economy, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, and yes, a distrust of the police. That distrust is only exacerbated by television personalities crying racism at every turn. All these issues need to be looked at collectively. Picking and choosing facts is self-serving and not fair to the memory of Michael Brown. Slavery and “institutional racism” did not kill Michael Brown and they didn’t force the grand jury to render the decision they did. Our society can learn from this situation but not if we blindly accept the premise that America’s institutions are all morally corrupt. It has become commonplace to accuse others of racism during the course of disagreements on issues such as this one and that is certainly hurting our ability to grow as a society.
– Andrew Mark Miller