How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Infuriating events in Ferguson, Mo., relay lessons for Trenton, N.J.

What transpired in Ferguson, Mo., is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for the family of Michael Brown, for the family of police officer Darren Wilson and for the fabric of our nation.

We may never know for sure what exactly precipitated the shooting and what transpired last month, in the moments before Wilson shot Brown six times.

On one end of the spectrum, there are those who see what occurred as an execution, grounded in racism, of a “gentle giant.” On the other end are those who see it as an appropriate response by a police officer who perceived a “reasonable fear of imminent great bodily harm.”

Blacks and whites generally see what happened in Ferguson very differently. The dramatic difference reflects the gaping racial chasm that exists in America.

Based on firsthand experience, the majority of African Americans distrust the police. While both whites and blacks generally give the police low marks for treating racial groups equally and using the appropriate amount of force, blacks are far more negative: Nine out of 10 African-American respondents in a recent Pew Research Center Poll indicated that the police are only “fair” or “poor” on these issues. The poll further indicated that when it comes to police in their own community, whites generally trust them not to use excessive force (74 percent), while most blacks (59 percent) indicate they lack confidence they won’t use excessive force.

African Americans who believe Brown was shot because he was black will question whether Wilson’s supporters would be in his corner if he were black and had killed an unarmed white teenager under the same set of circumstances.

There will be those who, like me, became disheartened after seeing the surveillance videotape showing Brown stealing a handful of cigars from a local convenience store and shoving aside a store employee. I wanted Brown to be an angelic gentle giant. I wanted him to be blemish-free. While Brown may not have been the perfect person some paint him to be, he shouldn’t have been killed because he was walking in the middle of the road.

Much of what occurred in Ferguson is infuriating.

The government’s response after the incident was horrendous. The pictures we saw in the news reports looked like the riots were taking place in Baghdad, not Missouri. Police response was too militaristic. It is the latest in an increasing number of examples of government’s inability to respond to crisis.

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson need to stay home. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, they are not calming influences; their presence hasn’t helped.
What we are seeing in Ferguson is deep-seated racial tension between the predominantly black community and the white power structure. Ferguson has remained in a time warp over the past three decades (there are only three blacks on a police force of 53). In 1990, the population of Ferguson was 73.8 percent white and 25.1 percent black; in 2010, it was 29.3 percent white and 67.4 percent black.

At a time when we have a black president and a black attorney general, it is appalling that there are so few African Americans in Ferguson’s government, on its board of education and on its police force.

The primary reason there are so few blacks in Ferguson’s power structure is black voter apathy; whites there vote at a much higher rate. Other factors include: 1) one out of three black American males will lose his right to vote because he spent time in prison; 2) socioeconomic status has a very strong correlation to voter participation, and that of blacks in Ferguson is lower than among whites; 3) Ferguson holds its elections off-cycle in the spring, separate from presidential and other state and national offices, reducing voter turnout, which reports have shown, lower minority representation; and 4) the existing economic power structure supports white candidates for public office while the black community lacks the disposable income to mount effective campaigns.

One way for something good to come out of something bad would be for Ferguson’s black community to register to vote in droves and for the forces for change to encourage and assist thoughtful African Americans to seek public office. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has suggested creating “candidate schools to recruit more young African Americans to run for office and more diverse law enforcement communities.” The idea is a good one.

One of the major foundational factors that contribute to the lack of economic prosperity and frustration in Ferguson is a failing school system. The district, which is 73 percent black, recently lost its accreditation, fired its popular black superintendent and suffers from a very high drop-out rate. Furthermore, six out of the seven members of the elected board are white.

The racial composition of a school board does not correlate directly with its schools’ success, but having folks who are intimately aware of the unique educational challenges faced by children who grapple on a daily basis with stress and trauma in their lives can be helpful in developing programs that help the children whom poverty is devouring.

Trenton’s African-American residents are well aware that electing a black mayor doesn’t necessarily produce high-quality government. Likewise, reducing the level of asymmetric representation in Ferguson is not a cure-all for all the multilayered problems the city faces. It is, however, a step toward greater inclusiveness and increased voter accountability.