Article written

  • on 27.11.2014
  • at 03:34 PM
  • by evelina

Ferguson burns, South Africa simmers: Why America is but a matchstick away 0

Ferguson explains more about South Africa, and South Africa more about Ferguson, than anyone would like to admit. There are lessons to be found in the ashes.

Two days ago, in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the first day of the second round of what were in different times referred to as “race riots” unfolded, much as everyone expected they would. In the images of jacked-up riot cops facing off against enraged citizens, we find an American city aping South African archival footage. It’s not just that America’s enduring, undying racial nightmare echoes South Africa’s, or vice versa—that’s both a no-shit truism and a vast over-simplification. But it’s a reminder that in divided countries with histories of institutionalized racism, reconciliation without actually reconciling—which is to say, hugging and making up without addressing the structurally ingrained disparities that keep old legacies alive—means that justice is not just impossible, but a massive cover-up, a ruse used by power to sucker everyone into quiescence.

Let’s recap. Last August, two characters lifted from Straight Outta Compton’s liner notes meet cute on West Florrisant Avenue. The first is a black teenager named Michael Brown, armed with a pack of cigarillos he may or may not have lifted from a convenience store. The second is a white cop named Darren Wilson, armed with the martial accoutrements of the modern-day American police warrior. Both are straight from central casting: Brown is large, black and imposing; Wilson is doughy, white and freckled. Their encounter occurs within a specific and highly ritualized power matrix: white policeman cruising shark-like through a black community, keeping order. But order for what, and for whom? Ferguson is home to an American underclass, those fated to consume but not accrue. Policing this status quo has its challenges, but with diligence, hard work and malice, the Fergusons of this world can not only be tamed, but rendered invisible.

Occasionally, there’s a glitch. Police and young black men exchange words hundreds of times a day in America; this time the conversation made history. Wilson tells Brown to quit walking in the street; there is some kind of altercation; Brown either punches or doesn’t punch Wilson in the face. In the testimony he gave to the St. Louis grand jury, Wilson describes Brown’s last moments with a soliloquy that could’ve been pulled from a Richard Price novel, all dead ends and false starts and hiccuppy elisions:

So when he stopped, I stopped. And then he starts to turn around, I tell him to get on the ground, get on the ground.

He turns, and when he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns and he’s coming back towards me.

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By Richardo Poplak 

Photo Credit: Daily Maverick

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