Rather than waiting until specifics about the Michael Brown case are known — such as autopsy results, detailed officer reports, toxicology or other details regarding his death — some Ferguson residents, Brown supporters and various hangers-on decided to act.
Learning nothing from the Trayvon Martin case, people took to the street with demands for “justice” and homemade protest signs. They were aided by a media seemingly excited about exploiting the narrative that Brown’s death was at the hands of a brutal and possibly racist cop in a militarized police force that cares little about black residents.
Ensuing nights after the shooting brought out the worst in people — including looting and burning businesses, vandalizing property and the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson seeking to “organize” the masses.
Regardless of one’s feelings about the Brown case, there’s a need for honest reflection about the behavior of people assembling in Ferguson, Missouri.
The self-destructive and self-defeating behavior on display in Ferguson was inexcusable. It’s a disservice to residents because it takes a sympathetic, accommodating view of the anti-social, regressive behaviors present during the riots, most of which were, unfortunately, committed by blacks.
Sympathizing with looting, vandalizing, personal violence and confrontation with law enforcement essentially excuses it, which emboldens perpetrators. Furthermore, this bad behavior is at the expense of law-abiding local residents whose lives were disrupted by this turmoil — the majority of whom are black.
Aside from being disgraceful, this dysfunction has severe economic consequences for the residents of Ferguson. While vandals reveled in self-created chaos, they made the case that opening businesses there may not be worth the risk.
All this stems from moral decay. There is a noticeable absence of moral values and ethical virtues in the nation as a whole these days, but it seems more concentrated in the inner cities, which are disproportionately populated by blacks. Churches have flunked their mission. The optics are devastating as the stigma associated with these incidents of violence and unrest are projected onto blacks as a whole, unfairly defining an entire race by the misdeeds of a relative few.
Whether the disruptive behaviors witnessed in Ferguson are from locals or self-seeking opportunists from other areas is really of no consequence. Regardless of race, class or residency, people shouldn’t hesitate to condemn bad behavior. But it seems too many whites won’t publicly condemn this condemnable behavior, even though they may earnestly desire to do so. Whites appear culturally conditioned these days to withhold honest commentary and astute observations on race, particularly about blacks. Common sense has been labeled “racist” by the racial grievance industry.
Compounding the problem is that the stigmas of these disgraceful activities and inverted morality behind them are projected onto blacks as a whole and are extremely difficult to overcome. To use a sports metaphor, blacks swallowed their whistle. We’ve forfeited our obligation of self-policing and society seems far too hesitant to publicly confront the conduct undermining the reputation of a race. This stunts our socio-economic progress.
A “soft bigotry of low expectations” is created when we refuse to denounce disruptive behaviors within our own community.
We too often excuse and remove the stigma of detrimental behavior, minimizing the shame that once accompanied dysfunctional, destructive activity. Counterproductive behavior is justified as the legacy of slavery and discrimination. We act as if we are a standard unto ourselves, separate and unaccountable from what society should expect — and actually demands — from other races.
Excusing inexcusable behavior has sullied our reputation and proved to many that we’ve spent our currency as a moral, cultural and political force. The bar is set so low that many aren’t shocked by what happened in Ferguson (or in Chicago, Detroit or other places).
And on the occasions bad behavior is called out, the predictable and reflexive reaction is that such critique is racist. Once again, the behaviors of a disproportionate few define blacks as a whole. The radicals perpetuate the very stereotypes that make them cringe.
Blacks aren’t done any favors when behaviors we’ve seen in Ferguson are excused by white enablers or black defenders. Racial solidarity and racial empathy unfortunately seem less important to these people than dealing with the tribulation of overcoming the stigma associated with undistinguished behavior.
Blacks have a moral obligation to reclaim values and dignity worthy of respect and admiration. It is likewise incumbent upon blacks, particularly the black middle class, to forthrightly and aggressively condemn attitudes and behaviors that thwart our progress and impugn our collective character.
This begins with condemnation of these stigma-creating behaviors.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Derryck Green, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, received a M.A. in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his doctorate in ministry at Azusa Pacific University. Comments may be sent to Project21@natioanlcenter.org.