A Former Community Organizer's View of Ferguson

How Obama's destructive legacy is reflected in the Missouri lynch mob.

ferguson-masked-protesters-APFor the past several days I have been watching news reports on the mayhem that is happening in Ferguson, Missouri.

Personally, I have tried to ignore the events going on there since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson.  Michael Brown was shot after he robbed a convenience store on August 9th 2014.  Officer Wilson shot Brown after Brown assaulted Wilson subsequent to the officer approaching the suspect while responding to the robbery call via emergency communication.

The reason I attempted to ignore the situation is that it reminds me of my days when I was working as a community organizer for the ACLU in Buffalo, New York.  It is a period in my life that I would rather forget.

I had the task of working on cases of police brutality.  When an incident would happen between the police and a suspect or group of suspects, protests would invariably begin.  The protesters would allege police brutality or misconduct.  The media would get involved and many “leaders” and “activists” would make wild and irresponsible charges against anyone who did not fall in line with the radical ideology of the organizers of the protests.

Does any of this sound familiar?

However, I did not expect the situation in Ferguson to spiral out of control like it has.

Why are black Americans reacting to this incident with so much anger and violence?  Michael Brown was obviously a dangerous young criminal who assaulted both a store clerk and a police officer.

The distress of so many black people goes beyond who Michael Brown was or what he was doing at the time of his death.

What everyone seems to be missing is that after 6 years of the historic election of the first African-American to the office of the President of the United States, many young black people still have a highly adversarial relationship with sources of civil authority and American society.

I vividly remember the emotional feeling that was present in the atmosphere right after President Obama won the election in November of 2008.  I was one of the few people in my community who did not support Barack Obama when he was running for President.  Furthermore, I was the only black person that I knew who favored Senator McCain over Senator Obama.

Nonetheless, when I stepped out of the door of my apartment building on the morning of November 5, 2008 I immediately sensed that the world was somehow different.  I could literally see the pride and happiness in the faces of other black people that I came across that day.

When I visited a coffee shop that morning for my daily caffeine fix, there was a white woman who was sitting at one of the café tables talking to another white woman about the historic significance of what happened the night before.  One of the women was crying tears of joy.

President-elect Barack Obama had so enthralled a segment of citizens with his message of hope and change that many people actually believed in the prospective future of our country and anticipated that many positive changes were soon to come.

I remember thinking to myself: “Maybe I am wrong about Barack Obama and what I think he represents.”

Fast forward 6 years to August 2014.

The almost universal African-American support for Senator Barack Obama in 2008 has dissipated to a degree. It is important to note this phenomenon because the black leadership class of the country from both sides of the political spectrum -- not just the right wing -- are questioning the impact and legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Many black citizens think that the President is indifferent to the plight of poor people in the United States. President Obama is silent on the breakdown of family values and civil society in the black community until an incident like the shooting death of Michael Brown forces him to focus on the decline of community standards and moral behavior.

It is under the tenure of the first black President that poor black families are seeing their chances of moving up the income ladder into the middle class disappear before their eyes.  Black parents are observing that their children are being born into poverty and realizing that they are likely to die in poverty.  African-American families are not living the American Dream.  Generation after generation are stuck in a practical social nightmare.

This is the political and social environment that manifests itself in our country after six years of President Obama’s administration.  It is this environment that creates fertile ground for race-baiting organizations like the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam to plant seeds of hate among the other rabble rousers showing up in Ferguson, Missouri.

In light of what is happening on the ground in Missouri we have to wonder how many of the people who are causing the problems in the region bought into the President’s message of hope and change back in 2008.

Now some of those self-same individuals are fueling what investigative reporter Matthew Vadum called “a vicious war against civil society in Ferguson.”

It is without doubt that many of the troublemakers in Ferguson today supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and not only because he was black.  They also genuinely believed that he would develop legislative policies and social programs that would help African-American communities and the poor people of this nation.

Now, that hope and belief has transformed into racially motivated violence and anger.

The President has not only failed the black community.  He has unwittingly pitted black and Hispanic poor and disenfranchised communities against one another through his inaction on the illegal immigration issue.  He has attempted to out-flank congressional Republicans in the realm of public opinion by using the Hispanic community as a political wedge.

There is something about the philosophical makeup and social structure of American black communities that makes young black men like Michael Brown choose the route of criminal activity and social exclusion over integration into the mainstream of our society.

There is no one in the urban communities to warn young people like Mr. Brown of the consequences of behaving like a felon.  Someone should have told him that the gangster rap music that he loved so much is full of messages that either has no basis in objective reality or will bring direct problems to the individuals who choose to believe in those ideas.

If you choose to behave like a criminal you are subject to being detained, arrested, assailed or killed by members of the police department.

This is a most basic fact of living in a civil society that anyone with a head on his shoulders should be able to understand.  Yet many African-American men make the choice to believe that the rules of society do not apply to them.

If there is any group of people that the President should have been desperately trying to reach with his message of hope and change it is young men like Michael Brown.

Instead, many of them are currently in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri engaging in violence and causing mischief and mayhem.

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