There is much more to the Ferguson decision and subsequent riots than just race

ferguson decisionFor months the story of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson has drawn the attention of the nation. The shooting itself has come to be representative of a much larger, discriminatory trend within the United States wherein citizens of minority membership are systematically targeted and treated with excessive aggression by those who are sworn to serve and protect.

There has been much said about the status of this event as a race-based issue. While that element can be clearly seen in this case, there are myriad of other factors involved. A significant portion of these, I believe, can be seen as extensions of one fundamental conflict. This is, namely, the struggle between those who control the capital and those who are controlled by it.

This problem goes far back in the history of industrialized societies and shows that there is a much bigger set of spinning wheels than those on display in Ferguson, Missouri. It is far larger than the individual persons of Michael Brown or Darren Wilson, and this is why a new perspective is needed

I. The Decision

After a drawn out process of deliberation, a decision finally came down: there would be no indictment. The decision, announced on Monday evening, brought immediate backlash from social media. In Ferguson protestors, incensed at the news, immediately began to make their voices heard, continuing to demand justice for Michael Brown.

The Grand Jury decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson is seen by many as further evidence of a US legal system which is broken. The fact that Michael Brown’s shooting is not even going to be brought to trial has left a great number of people shocked. Add to this a stack of questionable testimony by Wilson and photos of facial injuries which leave one wondering about the actual extent of the violence perpetrated by Brown and one can plainly see why many are upset.

There are several reasons why Wilson was not indicted. The most important of which is that it is very important to understand how the legal system works when brought into conflict with itself. Wilson, unlike a hypothetical parallel case involving a non-officer, is representative of the Ferguson police force (and, by extension the entire American state system) as a whole.

An indictment would look bad, plain and simple. This phenomenon is nothing new. Law enforcement prosecution rates have been far lower than those of common citizens for decades. Law enforcement conviction rates are even lower. This amounts to the creation of a protected class which seems to be relatively uninterested in a large subset of its protectorate. One can then see how the shooting of Michael Brown takes on a very different color when described in these terms.

II. The Riots

The riots that ensued after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision featured acts of indiscriminate violence across the town of Ferguson. Local stores, many of which were owned and operated by minorities, were subject to organized, and probably pre-meditated looting.

The police response was predictable and well-planned. A wall of police vehicles, encircling a walking group of riot police shooting tear gas canisters, slowly pushed the protesters further and further from downtown. At times there was so much tear gas in the air that one could not even see the ground from helicopter view.

A constant mantra from countless social justice warriors over the decades has been one which asserts the futility of violent acts. Theoretically the principle works off of the simple justice dichotomy. In other words, when peaceful demonstrators are attacked, they retain so-called “moral” authority. In the situation where violence erupts, authority figures are given immediate “justification” to use force of violence.

As was clear with the previous Ferguson riots, there are almost two very distinct categories of demonstration which have taken place. Both of these means express something about the participants, and both send a message. While it will no doubt be repeated that violence solves nothing, one can see that it can, and often does, send a message loud and clear.

Those who were at the core of the protest saw their conflict directly with the police. They faced tear gas and walls of armored crowd control personel. Those on the fringes of the activity, however, took to systematically looting and burning buildings and vehicles throughout the town. The second of these actions is rooted in economics.

Some rioters climbed buildings, pouring gasoline onto roofs, lighting fires. Some broke car windows and lit fires inside. This is, essentially, violence against objects. At a secondary level this is also violence against the owners of these objects.

How should we see this violence, then? Where does it come from? The answer lies in property. It can be argued quite thoroughly that a huge portion of racial inequality in the United States is economic. Out of this grows many other problems which can have hugely adverse effects on populations.

The destruction of these owned objects is both senseless and incredibly meaningful. Any act of violence is indicative of some imbalance in the subconscious of the population. Violence on such a large scale indicates that there is something seriously wrong with the system.

III. The Burning Police Car

The riots have shown a capacity within the population for extremely destructive behavior. Certainly these elements, which inserted themselves within the protests, sought primarily to assert their will over the community and the capital-state structure within which they exist. While watching live video coverage of the events, one image stood out from the rest. This image was a lone, burning police vehicle. What message does this act send?

On one, simple level this can be seen as destruction of property, vandalism, etc. On an entirely different level this act gets right at the core of the present conflict. The vehicle is merely an object, which has been created for a specific purpose. This purpose consists in the implementation of the will of the state through the bidding of the police force. The police are not the enemy, however the state system (represented by the car), which enforces servitude to those who control the capital in society, is.

The destruction of this object, then, can easily be seen as a removal of the tools of oppression from the oppressors. This indicates that the hostility embodied in the act is not directed at the police, but instead at the state and the property system which engenders inequality across the industrialized world. This inequality is certainly a side effect of the way that the capitalist system has evolved.

Protests have erupted across the country. This is a prime indicator of the existence of a systemic problem which must be rooted out and eliminated once and for all. No progressive should be in favor of violence. At same time it is very important to understand the deeper meaning behind acts of mass violence like those which took place in Ferguson. Morality notwithstanding, the riots have sent a message, it is up to those in power to decide how they will respond.


  1. I’m with David Ames, and yes I read the article. Sometimes progressive, liberal, informative and honest people can disagree, vehemently so even. That’s why I’m an Independent. My views tend left, but every so often I find myself on the right. I guess this is one of those times. Brown was a bully, a thug and a man with a death wish. No amount of leftist rhetoric and intellectual gymnastics will convince me otherwise.

  2. There was a man eating a ham sandwich on the streets of Ferguson, MO. He finished half of it, then put it down to join his friends in cheerfully looting a store owned by the same minority he purports to be outraged for. What is the deeper meaning of this simple, but subconscious act oh wise one?

    Seriously Sean, don’t attempt to enter the real world. You won’t be able to pass the entrance exam and you wouldn’t like it if you took the tour.

    • David – did you even read the article? I’m from inner city Los Angeles and have lived through a few riots…most notably the Rodney King verdict. Why you are insulting the author personally is baffling to me.

      • Michelle, if one finds ones self with vast experience on the subject of living through riots, one must ask ones self if it is time to move. Protesters protest peacefully and criminals commit crimes. I don’t subscribe the the theory that criminals have subconscious deeper meanings for their disregard of the rights of others.

Leave a Comment