My decision to participate in Ferguson October was spur of the moment. I did not plan to attend, but my partner and her roommate convinced me to go. My interconnected multiple selves — black man, job-seeking graduate student, and activist committed to social justice — waged a battle for my conscience and time. My multiple deadlines and obligations as a graduate student made such a trip inconvenient. Yet, I recalled my reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict. I remembered crying to express my helplessness and grief. I told myself that night, I would not be caught on the sidelines in the fight for racial justice again. I promised that I would do anything in my power to be present the next time, because, unfortunately, I knew there would be a next time.
Two weeks ago, hundreds of young whites clashed with riot police in Keene, NH, during the city’s annual Pumpkin Festival. The details regarding the riot’s spark are not clear. Witnesses describe the riot as a college party that spiraled out of control. Observers talked about how participants threw bottles and rocks, turned over dumpsters and a car, and uprooted traffic signs. The police responded in kind by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at rioters. Around thirty people were injured.
“It would be grossly unfair to omit recognition of a minority of whites who genuinely want authentic equality…But they are balanced at the other end of the pole by the unregenerate segregationists who have declared that democracy is not worth having if it involves equality. The great majority of Americans are suspended between these opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.” In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing and the Ferguson uprising, I am reminded of these passages written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the Kerner Commission. Both quotes reflect hard truths about the history of black uprisings in the U.S.—they are not the products of criminality or pathology; they are responses to longstanding grievances against racial and economic inequality. And in light of the Ferguson uprising, we should all take note of one argument advanced by Dr. King and the commissioners: America refuses to acknowledge how generations of structural racism have created the conditions for black rebellions.