“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
Edmund Burke’s insight returned to mind while watching cable news coverage of the rampage in Ferguson, Missouri, after St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The rioting, looting, arson and gunfire that began after McCulloch relayed the grand jury’s decision, a decision long predicted and anticipated, revealed the unspoken truth about Ferguson.
The problem in Ferguson is not the 53-man police department. The problem is the hoodlum element those Ferguson cops have to police, who, Monday night, burned and pillaged the stores on the main streets of their own community.
The police were portraits in restraint as they were cursed and showered with rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails. If the police were at fault at all, it was in their refusal to use the necessary force to stop a rampaging mob that destroyed the lives and livelihoods of honest businessmen and women of Ferguson.
Many will not be able to rebuild their stores. Many will not be able to get insurance. Many will give up and move away, the investment of a lifetime lost in a night of thuggery.
One recalls that the Detroit riot of 1967 was the beginning of the end of Motown. And it was decades before D.C. fully recovered from the riot and arson that followed the assassination of Dr. King.
In the wake of the Ferguson riot, some seek absolution for the rioters by redistributing responsibility to police and prosecutor.
Why, they demand, did McCulloch wait until 8 p.m., St. Louis time, to report the grand jury findings? Why did he wait until after dark?
Well, perhaps it was to give time for kids to get home from school and off the playgrounds, for businesses to close and shutter down, for rush hour to end. Hoodlums from Ferguson earlier stormed onto I-70 and shut down the Interstate â€” the way home for tens of thousands of St. Louisans.
Whatever reason McCulloch had for waiting until 8 p.m. does not explain or excuse the rampant criminality that lasted until midnight.
“No justice, no peace!” has been a howl of the protesters.
What they mean is strikingly clear: Michael Brown, one of us, is dead. Therefore, this cop, Darren Wilson, must go on trial for his life.
But this is not justice in America.
We have a legal process to determine who was in the right and who in the wrong, and whether a crime has been committed by a policeman in the use of deadly force.
“No justice, no peace” is an encapsulation of the lex talionis, an eye for an eye. Do we really want to go back to race-based lynch law?
That 10 o’clock split screen of Obama in the White House briefing room calling for peaceful protest and greater efforts by police to understand “communities of color,” side by side with graphic video of mob mayhem in Ferguson, tells a sad truth.
America’s election of a black president has not closed and, for some, has not even narrowed the racial divide.
We are now half a century on from the Civil Rights Act of 1964. African-Americans have risen out of poverty and the working class to become successes as actors, artists, athletes, executives, politicians, TV anchors, journalists, scholars, generals, authors, etc.
But if the hate we saw on the streets of Ferguson, and heard from many voices on cable Monday night, are a reflection of sentiment in the black community, the racial divide in some parts of America is as great as ever.
Indeed, we may be slipping backwards.
“Where is the black leadership now?” asks Juan Williams of Fox News. Indeed, where?
Unfortunately, many are openly pandering to the crowd, denouncing the prosecutor, denouncing the grand jury, denouncing the Ferguson cops, but tongue-tied when it come to denouncing the thuggery of black youth on the streets of Ferguson.
The morning after the riot in Ferguson, President Cornell William Brooks of the NAACP called the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson “salt in the wound of a brutal injustice. … The people in this community and across the country are … saddened and outraged.”
Where, from the president on down, do we hear any thunderous condemnation of what went on in Ferguson Monday night and of those responsible, coupled with a clarion call for the restoration of law and order in Ferguson, as an essential precondition of any civilized society?
Here is Eric Holder’s venture into moral equivalency when the grand jury decision came down:
“It does not honor [Michael Brown’s] memory to engage in violence or looting. In the coming days it will likewise be important for local law enforcement authorities to respect the rights of demonstrators, and deescalate tension by avoiding extreme displays â€” and uses â€” of force.”
Now there’s a lion of the law.