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Sundown Nation: America laid bare in Ferguson

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"My 7 year old son just said: 'Don't worry mom. If we want to live, we just have to stay home'. I'm turning off my tv. My heart just broke."

Mine too.

Imagine a country where minority parents give their children "the talk," but it has nothing to do with the birds and the bees. Instead, it's about learning submissive behaviour so you don't get shot by a cop.

Good God.

What just went down in Ferguson is far worse in its way than Jim Crow. Back then, the lines were clearly drawn for all to see. Segregation was a formal institution, backed up by the law, the police and KKK paramilitaries. Things were literally and visibly black and white.

Now everything is blurry. No more legal oppression. African Americans have been swept into the overall narrative of the American dream. Equal under the law. Guaranteed life and liberty. Free to pursue happiness. You can even be the President of the United States.

And yet unarmed Black kids -- and their parents -- are being slaughtered. Whites may carry heavy weaponry into commercial establishments. But Blacks, adults and children, are mowed down when they have only toy guns in their hands. Whites can "stand their ground"; Blacks go to prison for years when acting in non-lethal self-defence.

But it gets worse -- far worse. Blacks are still kept in cages, the bars being police and the entrenched white establishment that deploys them. The godawful numbers speak for themselves. Black communities -- or, to call them by their proper name, ghettos -- are confined spaces from which escape is difficult or impossible. Surrounded by figurative barbed wire, the borders heavily patrolled, African Americans are made vulnerable in ways hard for us even to imagine. In the St.Louis area, they are collectively shaken down by police and judges; the monies extracted can be as much as 40 per cent of municipal revenue. In court, the cards are stacked against them in almost satirical fashion. In Ferguson, white power rules supreme over a population that is nearly 70 per cent Black. Economic disparities, it hardly needs to be said, are overwhelming in Ferguson and all across the U.S., where the gap has tripled over the last 25 years.

We have just had an object lesson about how the law works in Ferguson. The prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, gave every appearance of being biased, but the Governor of the great state of Missouri refused to replace him with a special prosecutor. Things went downhill from there. The grand jury, called to decide whether charges should be laid, was composed of nine whites and three Blacks. Only nine votes are required for a decision.

Instead of doing his job, McCulloch just tossed the vast mass of evidence into the laps of the grand jury, effectivley saying "You deal with it." Smirking throughout his appalling post-announcement speech, he sounded by all accounts like Officer Darren Wilson's defence attorney. At the same time, he appeared to concede in spite of himself that there should have been a trial. Given the low legal bar for a grand jury to lay charges, a prosecutor, it has been said, can get an indictment against a ham sandwich.

But the prosecutor has to make the minimum effort required. McCulloch was not so inclined. Asked about eyewitness testimony, he said, "I think they truly believe that's what they saw, but they didn't." To top off the seemingly endless horror show that Ferguson had become, McCulloch decided to make his announcement at night, virtually guaranteeing that chaos would immediately follow, no doubt to reinforce stereotypes about unruly Blacks.

The Governor, for his part, had declared a state of emergency well in advance of the news. The fix was in.

The transcripts of the grand jury proceedings make it clear that there was gross negligence by the authorities in the immediate aftermath of Michael Brown's shooting. They simply didn’t care enough even to go through the motions of a serious investigation. The medical investigator explained why he had taken no measurements of the scene: "It was self-explanatory what happened. Somebody shot somebody. There was no question as to any distances or anything." Nor did he take photographs of the scene because, he claimed, his camera batteries had died.

As for the killer, Officer Darren Wilson, he testified that no one in the police department bothered to request a statement. In the event, the only statement he gave was to his lawyer -- making it privileged. Asked if he thought Brown had a gun, he said, "I wasn't thinking about that at that time." This was not followed up. An officer trained to preserve evidence, the first thing Wilson did at the police station was to wash the blood off his hands.

Wilson was a bullying cop who had already demonstrated that he considered himself above the law. He's now on his honeymoon, without a care in the world. He hasn’t lost a day's pay, nor, I suspect, a wink of sleep.

After the unsurprising news that there would be no indictment, the media played their invidious part as well. Last night CNN assembled five whites for comment, and invited George Zimmerman's attorney on for good measure. Its reporter on the scene, Don Lemon, reported on an "obvious" (after all, Blacks) smell of marijuana in the air.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama flapped his way through a weak, handwringing speech. Moral leadership at a time of domestic crisis? Forget it.

So what has been laid bare in America from the microcosm that is Ferguson? Let's go back to the quotation at the beginning from an anguished Black woman, whose seven-year-old child gave dreadful new meaning to that old cliché, "the streets are not safe." Indeed, for African Americans so many decades after Jim Crow, they are not.

In the past, America had its infamous "sundown towns," where Blacks were not permitted to be present at night. But in today's "post-racial" America, they are not permitted to be anywhere at all at any time but in their places, both literal and metaphorical. They must remain in perpetual confinement, and be submissive at all times. Their lives may depend upon it in Sundown Nation.


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