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Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Is the Ferguson, Missouri community unique in its inability to deal with a troubling death with still unanswered questions? Of course not. Ferguson is any-town when reason disintegrates into the chaos of aggressive confrontation.

Ferguson is not a community in decay or a broken ghetto as some news outlets have portrayed it. It will surprise many of my Louisiana readers to learn that I attended high school in Ladue, a small community right next to Ferguson, and to know that I regularly made the fifteen minute drive there for weekend dates. The racial demographics have changed, but the town is still made up of working class neighborhoods that continue to sprawl throughout St. Louis County.

That’s not to say that Ferguson is the safest place to be roaming about. The Wall Street Journal reports, “the city has 190 crimes per square mile, compared with a national median of 39.3. If you live in Ferguson, you are twice as likely to have your car stolen or get mugged, or have your house broken into than if you live in Averageville, U.S.A.” Kind of makes you feel right at home if you happen to live in New Orleans.

Louisiana communities, by comparison, have been relatively peaceful. Racial confrontations in Jena back in 2007, and in New Orleans following Katrina come to mind. Although the Bayou State has a proliferation of crime significantly above the national average, racial calm has generally prevailed. And give the devils their due. Politicians, particularly out of the state capitol, may be incapable of balancing the state budget, and solving a long list of quality of life problems. But racial strife has been minimized by active mayors and other officials both black and white, who have been fairly successful at defusing potential racial confrontations.

In the Ferguson crisis, no one comes out in a positive light. No one. Guilt and innocence is determined on television, as one rumor after the other is reported as fact. Typical was MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who tweeted out: “I think the security problem in Ferguson is not solvable through policing. Until charges are brought against Wilson, this will go on.” Wilson was the police officer who fired the shots that killed Brown. So much for any fair investigation taking place.

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon jumped to pre judge by calling for the “vigorous prosecution” of Wilson. Attorney General Eric Holder had no problem immediately jumping into this local dispute by sending in 40 FBI agents, and demanding a third autopsy on Brown.  He traveled to Ferguson to lament about his personal experiences in not believing the police. The New York Times quoted Holder as telling locals in Ferguson that “he could understand mistrust that many young blacks felt towards the police.” More pre judgment. As for the President? He has just stayed put on the golf course.

The Mayor and county officials loaded up with military weapons and armored vehicles to create an atmosphere of a war zone. Far from defusing the crisis, their actions just poured more fuel on the escalating fire.

Ferguson is 67% black, but the Mayor, the chief of police, and 5 of the 6 council members are white, and local African Americans claim an unfair radical balance. But these white officials were elected by this majority black city. Elections have consequences, and voting results show a lack of black participation. If you don’t go to the polls, you have only your self to blame.

Michael Brown told his family a few weeks before his death that he saw the face of God and “now I believe.” Then he went ahead and robbed a convenience store of cigars and ruffed up the clerk. Let’s just say he was no angel.

And we have not heard a peep from the shooter, Officer Darren Wilson. The failure of the Ferguson police department to give out Wilson’s side on just what happened is troubling to those who want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Like so many of these racial confrontations including Watts, Jena, Rodney King, O.J., Travon Martin and many others, this too shall pass. There is a leadership quotient that is missing in Ferguson. Chaos and confusion has to be addressed by community leadership way before confrontation happens.

Every city and state can make mistakes. But Louisiana seems to have gotten it right far more often than other parts of the country. Ferguson, as it goes forward, could well learn a lesson.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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