AFRICANGLOBE – Ferguson’s basic problem – a Black town run by whites – is not isolated. But if events there are left to fester, the situation could mirror Selma in 1965.
Much is unclear about the latest violence in Ferguson, Missouri. But two things are not. Wednesday night’s shooting of two police officers, from relatively long range, was not a random event, but a deliberate attack, for whatever motive. And second, it is proof that Ferguson remains a racial tinderbox, that could spark similar unrest elsewhere in the country.
Great efforts have been made to reduce tensions since the fatal shooting of the unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer last August. But the this latest episode – which came amid continuing protests after the departure of the town’s police chief, following a damning Justice Department report on racism in the Ferguson police department – only underlines how much more needs to be done.
All sections of the community, protesters as loudly as the authorities, have condemned the shootings. Attorney General Eric Holder called them “heinous” and “inexcusable.” Maybe the shared revulsion will hastened the process of racial healing. The sad fact is however that plenty of local people bear legitimate grudges against the police. The availability of guns in America makes it all too easy to act on such grudges.
The first step, obviously, is to track down the gunman or gunmen, and police appeared today to have some promising leads. That however is only a start. Six local officials have already been forced to resign since Mr Brown’s murder. But protests have continued. Confidence among Ferguson’s majority Black population in the white-run city administration and police force was already minimal well before the Brown tragedy.
Ultimately, the tensions in Ferguson can only be resolved in Ferguson, not by decree from Washington. Mr Holder thus far has said only that the the federal government will do all it can to help. But it may be time for the federal government to intervene directly, with creation of a more representative police department as a priority.
Ferguson’s basic problem – a Black town run by whites – is not isolated. It persists in towns across the South and border states like Missouri, a hangover from an era of racial discrimination. Direct intervention from Washington has momentous precedents: one thinks of the federal troops sent to ensure the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957, and of the University of Mississippi in 1962, and to protect the third voting rights march at Selma in 1965. Events in Ferguson are not on that scale. But if left to fester, they might become so.