America's Autoimmune Disorder

What happened last night in Ferguson, Missouri was a disgrace for us all. It was also what happens when you let a kettle of unresolved racial issues boil over after years of neglect.

I’m not talking about the “rioting and looting”—that happened on all of one night and any sane response from police and elected officials could have kept it from happening again. (Anil Dash had a good series of tweets about what a sane response looks like, the sensible bastard.) I’m talking about the unleashed paramilitary forces who have an unpurged history of institutional racism.

I’m talking about cops.

Choosing to be a cop is a little crazy to begin with. You’re inviting yourself to get shot at. You’re destined to see humanity at its worst. You’re going to be there when things get ugly, and our society has been stockpiling weapons for so long that you can’t really be blamed for living in fear of your life.

The thing is: when we let individuals off for heinous acts just because they wear the badge we make things worse for everybody. The public—and let’s be real: we’re talking people of color for the most part—can’t trust members of an institution that has immunity for something like the killing of Mike Brown. Eric Garner. Ezell Ford. Oscar Grant.

Every cop knows this, at worst they willfully ignore this. At least the part that would trigger their empathy, because as a society we’ve defined their role as strapping on body armor to go protect the property interests of the landed class. Be it a gas station or Zucotti Park.

This scenario is bad for everyone, and the militarization of cops over the past decade has only made it worse. America has become a country with an autoimmune disorder: the system we’ve developed to protect ourselves has turned against us. Starting with the parts of our body politic that are the most recent additions. Given that the values which we teach to schoolchildren—that all people are created equal for starters—are good values this condition is unacceptable.

One thing that concerns me today is how easy the events of this week are going to be to ignore for those of us who are not plugged in. By “plugged in” I mean “on Twitter,” because Facebook’s algorithm has done a wonderful job of making the events in Ferguson a non-event. It’s the job of those of us who have some idea of what’s going on to keep this on the front burner.