“As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption.” – Martin Luther King Jr. in a speech on March 14, 1968, just three weeks before he was assassinated.
SWAT teams were created in the 1960s to combat hostage-takings, sniper shootings, and violent unrest. But today they’re often used in more controversial police work and with an increased use of military weapons. As Thom Hartmann correctly states, “America’s police forces have become like occupied armies, hyper-militarized for the benefit of our nation’s military industrial complex. All across our country, local cops are kicking in doors, SWAT teams are carrying weapons of war, and warrants are becoming things of the past.”
Ferguson matters because we are finally witnessing the social injustice of our current War on Drugs and growing militarized police state. Here are the facts:
- Black people are arrested and incarcerated six times more often than whites.
- An African-American male is sentenced to a prison term that is, on average, twenty to fifty times longer than a white male convicted of the same drug crime.
- More than 2.3 million men in America are in prison, approximately half of them for drug-related crimes. Seventy percent of all men imprisoned are black or Hispanic. Thirty years ago, before the “War on Drugs” was launched, there were only 300,000 people in the American prison system.
- There are 2.7 million children whose fathers or mothers are in prison, on probation, or on parole.
- In many urban areas eighty percent of young men have prison records. These convictions will remain on their records permanently, limiting their voting rights and their ability to find employment. Currently, in all but two states, citizens with felony convictions are permanently or temporarily prohibited from voting. The United States is the only country that permits permanent disenfranchisement of felons even after completion of their sentences.
- The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, higher than Russia, China, and Iran.
- White households have six times the wealth of African-American households.
Ferguson matters because St. Louis County prosecutors may have misled the grand jury into believing that Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Brown merely because the unarmed black eighteen-year-old fled from the officer, according to a review of the grand jury documents by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell:
“Before Wilson testified to the grand jury on September 16, prosecutors gave grand jurors an outdated statute that said police officers can shoot a suspect that’s simply fleeing. This statute was deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1985; the court ruled that a fleeing suspect must, at least in a police officer’s reasonable view, pose a dangerous threat to someone or have committed a violent felony to justify a shooting.”
Ferguson matters because many black leaders, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, are rightfully troubled because the judicial system is obviously racially flawed. Abdul-Jabbar writes, “The people of Ferguson, and across the country, are not protesting against white people or police officers, they are protesting against the kind of racism that is so embedded in various social institutions that it’s invisible to all except those it affects. They are protesting a blind faith in any institution when the facts don’t warrant that faith.”
Ferguson finally matters because the rules are really different for blacks seeking justice and no one understood this better than Martin Luther King Jr whose words in his 1968 speech (The Other America) speaks to all Americans, regardless of their race,“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
We have now reached the stage in our Republic where the unheard must be heard.
Spiritual consultant Allen L Roland can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Allen is also a lecturer and writer who shares a weekly political and social commentary on his web log and website allenroland.com. He is also a featured columnist on Veterans Today and guest hosts a monthly national radio show TRUTHTALK on www.conscioustalk.net.