Why Ferguson Matters

James Knowles III was recently re-elected as mayor of Ferguson, MO.  Ferguson, ground zero for Black Lives Matter, racial unrest, police state and governmental misconduct.  So what happened?  Fresh off a DOJ scathing review and global criticism, the status quo held serve.  Held serve in a predominately Black city itching, twitching and demanding change. This town was supposed to lead the example of a broken system set right orchestrated through the philosophy of ‘when you hit rock bottom, there’s no place to go but up.’  But instead we got, ‘same as it ever was.’

So again, what happened?

First, you have to understand the history of Ferguson.  Once a sundown town, things changed through integration and White flight.  Over the course of a couple of decades, the town’s demographics reversed from 75% White to now, almost 75% Black.  But with that reversal, the power structure stayed the same.  White council(men), White police force, White mayor and White power hierarchy.  Plantation-ish.  This power network produced an ‘us against them mentality,’ a White against Black mentality and a dysfunctional social class system. Actually, this was/is a by-product of what is taking place throughout America.  (When the DOJ report was furnished, people asked, how could this go by undetected?  Believe me, there are hundreds of towns in America with Ferguson syndrome).

So with no accountability, on came the economic disenfranchising.  Like any town, it needs revenue to function.  Property taxes and sales taxes usually make up the bulk of the monies with utility fees also reaching double digits.  All total, these funds generally account for nearly 75% of its revenue.  Adversely, fines and court fees average around 5% of a town’s revenue.  In Ferguson, these fines and fees accounted for nearly 60%.  And of this percentage, found in the DOJ report, they were assessed primarily to its African-American residents.  Disproportionately.  And actually, it was mandated to be this way.  We’ve all heard of the police departments having to reach quotas.  “Be careful driving at the end of the month, they gonna get cha!”  But it didn’t matter what time of month in Ferguson, all that mattered was race.

Read excerpts of the DOJ report. 

Read how Blacks were routinely harassed and fined in order to bring the town revenue.  Overwhelmingly so.  And the courts were in on it.  They’d limit their days of availability, only opening a couple of days a week and whoever didn’t attend was assessed a ‘failure to appear,’ levy, further strengthening the town’s budget but de-pocketing its already impoverished residents.  But they didn’t care.  Didn’t care because there was no checks and balance system in place.

But what this created was two-fold.  A disdain (and fear) of the judicial system and a downright hatred towards the occupying force of the police department.  Michael Brown was stopped for jaywalking and with the history of petty ticketing, probably would have been given a ticket.  But instead he was murdered.

And left uncovered in the heat, rotting, for hours…(hard for me to write).

The unrest that followed was the boiling point, should’ve been the tipping point, of the perfect storm of being fed up with police brutality and judicial bamboozlement.  They had enough.

But fast forward two years, until now.  Yes, the police chief is Black, there are a few (3) Black members on the council and an awareness of the situation is evident but, Mr. Knowles III still got re-elected.  Yet people are still angry.

Voter apathy.

So why didn’t the 75% of Black residents come out to vote?  Warrants.  Felony charges.  Fear.  All created by the corrupt system that will take years to dismantle and rebuild.  I don’t know the true roots of the citizens of Ferguson.  The anger that they must feel, I’ve never been there.  But those that have, those that have power, need to help in the rebuilding.  It’s not just a newsworthy story, these are lives.  They need to formulate a plan for its future and how the system of oppression can be annihilated.  The how to clear my warrants?  The how to pay off these felony charges?  The how to educate, run and win these council seats?

Fear, anger and pain are emotions – energy.  They can be directed into action from negative to positive; to results and change.  But there needs to be a plan.  And whereas Ferguson was ground zero for Black Lives Matter, it can become ground zero for:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

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