Commentary: The United States and the Ferguson saga

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By Jean H Charles

Beware the ides of August, the ghost month according to the Chinese is prone to fatalities. Julius Cesar may have popularized the term of the ides of March since he was assassinated in that month in spite of the warning to avoid Rome at that time. My own empirical observation has indicated that the month of August has also its load of bad omens that one should be careful about.

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Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.com and followed for past essays at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti

To start with, the tropical hurricanes with their sexy female names and their devastating consequences arrive usually in August. I remember several airplane disasters that fell in August. To name two: the Japan airline flight 123, Saudi flight 163. Is it the effect of the hottest time of the year, social upheavals tend to pierce the ordinary daily lot of up and down to erupt and change the canvas of a city or a nation?

Case in point, on August 18, 2014, a young black man, age 19, named Michael Brown, was shot dead by a white policeman named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Commotion arose immediately in the city, followed by outrage in the nation and concern all over the world. President Barack Obama dispatched his attorney general, Eric Holder, himself a black man, to attempt to calm the spirit. It was refueled by comments, visits and speeches by some black activists, like Al Sharpton, who may have added some more fire to the tumult.

Ferguson entered into the hall of infamous cities like Selma, Watts, East St Louis, where social upheaval has stamped the town putting in circulation the issue that black integration is still a work in progress. It started one and a half centuries ago, when Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, made a bold decision to go to war with the southern states, which were bent on maintaining slavery and its social heritage as an accoutrement of the fabric of the society.

Relying less on cotton as an export commodity, the north realized that slavery was not advantageous for building a vibrant economy. It accompanied President Lincoln in pursuing a policy of engaging the United States to pursue war in order to build a land united from sea to sea.

Soon after victory, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated around 1865, deferring the dream of a United States where the color of the skin would not predispose the way one is treated before court and on the street. The black population suffered the Jim Crow laws that perpetuated slavery without the name. Some 100 years later, in 1964, Dr Martin Luther King, with the strategic support of President Lyndon Johnson, rekindled the flame of equality for all.

Several laws were passed to promote the concept so cherished in my essays, to wit the Renan doctrine that a nation-state will agree to push forward those who are left behind. Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination and the demise of President Johnson due to the imbroglio of the Vietnam War put a brake on the flurry of initiatives to render whole the determination that the black citizen will no longer be a second class citizen.

Ferguson is the latest saga of a population tired of the discrepancy between what the United States professes and what it practices. In spite of the fact that a black American in the person of Barack Obama is now occupying the highest honor of leading the United States, the fate of the ordinary black person is still into the hands of the more often white police officer with discretionary authority to inflict harm because of a spirit filled with prejudice.

The facts are still murky. Did the white officer Darren Wilson shoot Michael Brown in legitimate defense or was it an overreacting police officer filled with scorn for a black teenager? A court of law, after reviewing all the facts, will make that decision.

Will there be more Ferguson-like incidents in the future, prompting more social upheavals in the United States? The answer is a qualified yes. Race relations in America since the Moynihan report of 1965 have not been au beau fixe. The negro family and the case for national action have been a timid one with the exception of the Lyndon Johnson initiatives.

If the United States has not succeeded in integrating its 40 million blacks and minorities population after 50 years of the civil rights agenda, China at the same time has succeeded to usher some 800 million Chinese citizens into exiting from extreme poverty to the bliss of middle class status.

We are going back to the concept prompted so often in this column, whether the entire population will accept to move forward the segment of the nation that is left behind. Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat from the South, could easily rally the troops of the conservative sector to convince them it was in their interest to bring the black population forward.

President Richard Nixon, a Republican, albeit close to impeachment and resignation, was the closest one to Lyndon Johnson leadership in pursuing an aggressive policy of helping the black citizen to feel he is welcome and useful in America.

In conclusion, the end of the repeat of the tumultuous reaction of Ferguson will depend whether a southern Democrat or a northern Republican will gain the seat of power after the mandate of President Barack Obama to rally their base and convince America that the 40 million blacks and minorities need not revolt to achieve full emancipation. I have not seen any such candidate on the horizon.

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