The images and news coming out of Ferguson, MO in the wake of Michael Brown’s death more than a week ago have been heartbreaking and maddening. I haven’t had a lot to say about it, because first, I’m not there. Also, frankly, I feel somewhat overwhelmed: what is there to say, after all, when something you read about in history books as something that happened in the past – armed police and national guard battling protesters in the streets of an American city – begins happening again, right before your eyes (or at least your TV and Twitter screens)?
But when things are as heartbreakingly real as they are in Ferguson right now, and as publicly visible, the absurd often takes over to sort of seize the moment and summarize what’s wrong, in a single image or short clip of video or audio. No amount of live footage of actual protesters being kettled, harassed, or threatened by combat-armed police can do as much for telling us what’s wrong and why it’s wrong as brief glimpses like these often can.
Last night, reporting live from the CNN Newsroom, host Rosemary Church had Jake Tapper (who was actually in Ferguson) live on the air. Tapper had already earlier that evening issued a gobsmacked and disgusted rant about the situation (which quickly went viral), because he was actually there and could see how bad things were. But now he was performing correspondent duty, this time discussing with the studio hosts how most of the protesters were peaceful and not looting or causing trouble, but how spraying tear gas is indiscriminate, and punishes all equally. Church’s suggestion for this dilemma? Well, MediaMatters has the video, but here’s the relevant clip:
Water cannons? Seriously? Did a white CNN News anchor – presumably someone who knows current events as well as the history of them better than the average citizen – just unironically urge the Ferguson police use water cannons on the protesters in Ferguson? Because it’s not like that’s ever been problematic in US history, especially as it pertains to the white power structure using excessive force against the black community. Oy. I’d link to the history of water cannon use, but I don’t want to insult your intelligence, so instead, I’ll assume my readers are more clued-in than the average CNN host, apparently. However, here’s what I tweeted to Ms. Church, when I learned of this today:
That’s the reason this is happening, in a nutshell – because we’ve forgotten our history, and so we are being condemned to repeat it. Or, rather, I should say, white people appear to have forgotten our history. Black people, who’ve continued to have to face on a regular basis the fact that race in America is not a “solved issue,” probably remember the history fairly well. The actions of Ferguson police chief “Stonewall” Jackson – releasing the convenience store robbery video over the objections of the DoJ (who knew better), setting the tone of obfuscation and heavy-handed tactics – and Rosemary Church’s blithe and oblivious suggestion of the use of water cannons against protesters, are all of a piece. The common thread is either forgetting or refusing to acknowledge both the history and the unsolved present problem of the different treatment of black and white in America, and of poor and rich. Yes, we (desperately) need to demilitarize the police (getting rid of the 1033 program is a good start). But until America as a whole acknowledges these racial and class realities, this shit is gonna keep happening, over and over and over.
In fact, you can see it in one still-frame from the video above. It’s a bit grainy, so I’ll post a clearer image of it here. Get a load of Church’s co-host’s face after hearing her water cannon comment. He knows. Because he’s lived the reality Church has not, which is what allowed her to suggest such a thing where it would never in a million years have even occurred to him to say. But you can see that he sort of thought she knew, too…and is shocked to discover she doesn’t. Just look:
That, right there, is the gap we need to close in America’s minds, before this stuff can stop happening.