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The roots of American injustice lead to civil unrest

On a recent edition of “Let it Rip” on Fox 2, news anchor Charlie LeDuff suggested that conditions are ripe in Detroit to mirror Ferguson, Missouri’s civil unrest. His comments prompted this writer to revisit the civil unrest in Ferguson but with a different point-of-reference.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Whenever I lamented to my aunt over a male friend, my aunt would say, “When did he start acting this way?” I would reply, “He just started this”. My aunt would counter with, “Uh-uh, no he didn’t. You need to go and search that thing, cause everything and everybody has a root.”

Likewise, the situation in Ferguson, Missouri has roots also. The civil unrest in Ferguson can be traced, on the surface, to the killing of Michael Brown as he stood or kneeled unarmed while being shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson police department.

According to a recent article in, Wilson, who is white, did not know that Brown was a possible suspect in a store robbery earlier in the day. Therefore, it is unclear why the officer decided to accost Brown.

Ferguson’s civil unrest is rooted in the very soil that supports the ground Americans walk on. The roots of America’s injustice can be linked to the “... history of a biological and cultural collision of Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans. Europeans initiated this contact and often dictated its terms. For Native Americans and Africans, American history began in disaster”.

The killing of Brown

According to high-profile forensic pathologist, Michael Baden, the bullets that struck Brown were not fired from close range, as indicated by the absence of gunpowder residue on his body.

Some of the bullets left several wounds.

One of the bullets shattered his right eye, traveled through his face, exited his jaw and re-entered at his collarbone, according to the autopsy.

The last two shots were probably the ones to his head, which entered the top of Brown's skull, suggesting that his head was bent forward when he was struck [possibly in a kneeling position] (Yan & Cuevas, 2014).

A brief recap of American history reminds us that Africans were transported to America as a labor force. Wall Street can sketch its beginnings to the place where slaves were bought and sold and Wall Street is still shrouded with predatory conglomerates. Wells Fargo, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Aetna and other financial giants who currently discriminate against blacks in their loan practices, financed slave holders to buy slaves.

A snatch of Wall Street’s history

Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, vol. II, 458, December 13, 1711

Be it Ordained by the Mayor Recorder Aldermen and Assistants of the City of New York Convened in Common Council and it is hereby Ordained by the Authority of the same That all Negro and Indian slaves that are lett out to hire within this City do take up their Standing in Order to be hired at the Markett house at the Wall Street... whereby all Persons may Know where to hire slaves...

The American divide

Blacks were treated inferior and free blacks were not regarded any better. Very few states afforded free blacks the right to vote, and when states were forced to do so, they devised literacy tests and other means to keep blacks away from the voting polls.

Brutality, death and intimidation were frequent measures used to ensure white privilege and maintain separation of the races.

Under the guise of the Klu klux Klan, too many law enforcement agencies and local and state governments have supported (at one time or another) the killing of blacks without any consequences of reprisals.

An April 2013 report prepared by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that killings of black Americans by “law enforcement, security guards and stand-your-ground vigilantes” have increased from one every 36 hours, in the first half of 2012, to one every 28 hours by the end of that year. This statistic is rooted in structural racism that systematically excludes people of color from opportunities and perpetuates negative stereotypes.

To understand the relationship between race and policing in the U.S., one must trace the formation of police units which evolved out of slave patrols from the 1800s.

During the era of U.S. slavery, white men organized themselves into slave patrols to enforce slave codes. Their duties were inclusive of patrolling roads to capture potential runaways, and being on the lookout for suspicious activity.

In the post-Civil War era, slave patrols reorganized themselves into policing divisions that enforced Black codes and Jim Crow laws. Black people were jailed in larger and larger numbers in accordance to the Black codes, especially in the South. Groups of whites, often the same ones who were members of the police force, fashioned the lynching of Black people as an institutionalized way to terrorize Blacks and maintain white supremacy.

To this end, the lines had been drawn and the die cast for black men to bear the unwilling burden of being stereotyped and nonessential; forever being seen as a disposable labor force of servitude and being subjected to the political, economic, and the social injustices of a nation.

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, paramilitary units, were created to quell black protesters in major U.S. cities, during the 1960s and '70s.

With increasingly militarized police departments throughout the U.S., supported by a government that uses violence to police the world, our city streets are battlegrounds. With structural racism’s harmful, dehumanizing images, the enemy insurgents are black.

In light of the violence in Ferguson, federal officials are giving second thoughts to sending military equipment to civilian police departments across the U.S.

The public has been inundated with graphic images of heavily armed police in Ferguson, and snipers aimed at protesters and tear gas plumes. Against that backdrop, Attorney General Eric Holder said that when police and citizens need to restore calm, "I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message."

In Louisiana, masked police in full body armor carried AR-15 assault rifles while raiding a nightclub without a warrant, looking for underage drinkers and fire-code violations. Officers in California train using the same counterinsurgency tactics as those used in Afghanistan.

Why we are in a state of unrest

Dr. Pam Haldeman, chair of Sociology, Gerontology, Social Work, and Documentary Film and Social Justice programs at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, maintains that “Looting and vandalism are the outcome of long term, pent up frustration, marginalization, alienation, hopelessness, anger and lack of social control. "When these are combined with an opportunity structure to act out, people do. It is not surprising and is predictable."

Our government maintains American soldiers of war throughout the globe. Police combat crime in our streets with guns, even if the alleged criminal stands-down. People fight one another in shootouts. The American Government vacillates on gun control. The history of whites policing blacks comes with a dirty price tag; and friendly fire remains a euphemism. There will be no cease fire in America on young black males.

The worse collateral damage of all

Ferguson's superintendent announced that public schools, which had been scheduled to open this week, will remain closed until Aug. 25:

All schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District will be closed Tuesday, August 19 through Friday, August 22 due to continued unrest in and around Ferguson, Mo. This decision was made after much careful deliberation and consideration of input received from local law enforcement officials and District security staff. We believe that closing schools for the rest of this week will allow needed time for peace and stability to be restored to our community and allow families to plan ahead for the additional days that children will be out of school. While we deeply regret this delay to the start of the 2014-2015 school year, our first priority is the safety of our students. Due to this change, the first day of school in the Ferguson-Florissant School District will be on Monday, August 25.

At least five unarmed black boys and men have been killed in the past month by the police: Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, and Michael Brown.


Yan, H. Cuevas, M. (2014, Aug).Michael Brown death: Autopsy unlikely to settle dueling narratives. CNN.

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