Baltimore and the Futile Lessons of Ferguson

The National Guard is out on the streets of Baltimore. The protests spread after Freddie Gray’s death. He emerged from police custody with a broken spine and passed away in the hospital after a week of agony.

The Facts about Ferguson

His family has asked for Obama to intervene. They want justice. The images arriving from Baltimore remind us of the ones we saw of Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown last August. The killing of this young man by a white police officer sparked rage among the African American community in the suburb of St. Louis.

Historic leaders who fought for black civil rights spoke out, and Obama gave reassurances that the federal government would carry out an inquiry into the case. These announcements convinced people to go home.

What happened next is well known: Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, was found not guilty. Ferguson’s police chief gave his resignation, and the federal inquiry promised by then-Attorney General Eric Holder still has not yielded any results.

Moral of the story: In December 2014 a poll by The Washington Post-ABC said that a majority of African Americans were sure they were treated differently by the police and justice system because of the color of their skin.

The racial question in the USA, never really resolved, found its microcosm in the Ferguson events. That is precisely why many thought there would be no more victims like Michael Brown. His death led to protests unlike anything seen in years. Could they risk others?

Black Lives Matter

The answer arrived during the following months. In December 2014, Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who had killed Eric Garner the previous July, was cleared of all charges. The grand jury’s verdict was met by thousands of people who demonstrated ferociously in New York, where the events had taken place, and in dozens more American cities.

The slogan of these protests was Black Lives Matter. A peaceful, overarching movement was born, wanting an end to cases of police abuse of black people. A civil rights movement for the new millennium, which suddenly seemed much more far-reaching than anyone could have thought, but which has still not received answers from the political system and the American judiciary.

After these demonstrations, there were other black people killed, some of them teenagers, during police searches or arrests. And after these new victims, the debate intensified.

The topic has been passionately dissected in hundreds of radio and television debates, in dozens of articles and analytical pieces. The police have been placed under accusation. They have defended themselves, saying that they have only acted in legitimate self-defense.

Barack Obama has intervened, and on the 50-year anniversary of the Selma march, he said that America still has a long way to go along the path toward the full realization of civil rights.

Newtown’s Futile Lessons

The message was completely clear, but it was not enough to stop it happening again. What happened is the same as the aftermath of the Newtown shooting.

After the massacre, Obama asked for a crackdown on the freedom to possess handguns and shotguns. He asked Congress to intervene, stances were taken, petitions signed, pleas made.

In that case there was an opinion movement as well, but at the end of the day it has not (yet) changed anything. Some states have imposed restrictive laws, but generally the right to carry arms remains intact in the USA. With all its tragic consequences. This is why many said that Newtown’s lessons counted for nothing.

If we look at the night in Baltimore, we can draw the same conclusions. Ferguson’s lessons have counted for nothing. Less than a year after the events in a St. Louis suburb, we find ourselves facing more protests following the death of a black man stopped by the police.

Decisive Intervention

A long way from the deep South, the stage has changed but the scene has not — and it’s gotten worse. The African-American community expected more from Obama and does not understand why the president has adopted a line which will be considered too prudent and distant from the sentiments of the majority.

Up until now Obama has fought for the prerogative of federal government powers rather than those of individual states, but it is true that he could have been more decisive on this issue, of which he is an essential part.

Let’s see what he does next, after the outbreak of violence in Maryland. Perhaps it is not too late to stop Ferguson’s lessons falling on deaf ears. Although the protests in Baltimore will not be the last.

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