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OPINION: There’s a ‘Ferguson’ near you

By Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Trice Edney Newswire 

Rev. Jesse Jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson

Look around you. The absence of noise isn’t the presence of justice. Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American male in suburban Ferguson, Missouri, who had just graduated from high school and planned to start college, has joined a long line of Blacks, especially black males, who have recently been gunned down, wrestled down and killed by white men and/or white police officers who claim “reasonable fear” or “self-defense” as their defense. 

However, Chicago has experienced a rash of young Blacks in gangs killing each other over “territory” or in “retaliation,” so it’s not just whites killing young Black males.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch photo shows Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, holding a sign reading: “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!” 

Police report Brown shoved the officer into his car, tried to take his gun and a shot was fired. Obviously, there are conflicting reports so it’s premature to come to conclusions, but a full federal investigation into what happened is essential. I understand the community’s anger, and protests are legitimate and in order, but Michael Brown’s family said things should not be made worse with looting and vandalism. That will only cloud the real issues, will not bring Michael Brown back and will not facilitate justice.

How could this happen in suburban Ferguson, Missouri? Many African Americans who grew up in St. Louis, got a good education, secured good jobs at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) or elsewhere, and are better off economically, moved into various suburban communities in North St. Louis County — Normandy, Florissant, Bellefontaine Neighbors, Jennings, Berkeley (home of Cedric the Entertainer), Dellwood and elsewhere.

Ferguson is a suburban community of about 21,000 that has changed from a majority white to a 70 percent African American community. Congressman Lacy Clay represents it. I know some of the families there, including two white families.

This is a hard-working, church-going and middle-to-working class community with families struggling economically to keep their heads above water. There is also a smaller but growing poor community in Ferguson. It reflects what’s happening in America generally. When journalists and politicians speak of a dwindling middle class that’s under economic assault and a poor community that’s getting bigger, they’re talking about Ferguson. Independent of the racial demographics and dynamics of Ferguson, Missouri, there’s a “Ferguson” near you.

Since President Lyndon B. Johnson, there has been no significant urban, suburban, small town or rural policy to rebuild America. Thus we should not be surprised that urban and rural communities, and all points in between, have significantly deteriorated during the past 46 years of neglect. 

Republicans are the party of “no” and Democrats are the party of “don’t know” because it hasn’t fought for bold ideas, policies or plans to turn us in a new direction. Policies of community development are being replaced with policies of community containment. The absence of a domestic Marshall Plan is being replaced with martial law.

Here’s America today: high unemployment and low graduation rates result in guns and drugs in and jobs out; hospitals and public schools closing; gym, art, music and trade skills taken out of our public schools; inadequate investments being made in our infrastructure with roads crumbling, bridges falling down and an outdated public transportation system; a failure to address climate change; denial of capital investment for entrepreneurs; abandoned homes and vacant lots; a lack of youth recreational opportunities; frivolous entertainment, texting and Twitter replacing serious news reporting, reading, writing and arithmetic; a cutback in funding and a denial of equal opportunity in public jobs such as for teachers, policemen and firemen; all of which leads to hopelessness, despair and cynicism.

Many are observing Ferguson and witnessing the anger, demonstrations, looting and vandalism and calling for quiet. But quiet isn’t enough. The absence of noise isn’t the presence of justice — and we must demand justice in Ferguson and the other “Fergusons” around America.

Too many Americans have adjusted to injustice and inequality. But injustice and inequality anywhere is a threat to justice and equality everywhere. To allow injustice and inequality invites a Ferguson to your community. We must stand together, black, white, brown, red, and yellow and fight for justice and equality for all. It’s the only way to avoid more Fergusons.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

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