Ron Radosh

The Ferguson Protests Aren't a Movement for Civil Rights

The response of the African-American “civil rights” establishment and the American Left to the verdict in Ferguson came quickly and predictably.  Al Sharpton and other racial demagogues urged their followers to take to the streets if anything but a first degree murder indictment was handed down for Officer Darren Wilson. The protestors and rioters were prepared, but Missouri’s governor wasn’t. He failed to call out the National Guard on the day the verdict was released.

What is particularly galling is the argument that the events in Ferguson, and the no bill for Wilson, are a throwback to the segregationist era of the 1950s and 1960s, when the modern civil rights movement engaged in non-violent civil disobedience.  “The Movement,” as they called it then, showed the nation and the world the immoral actions of police chief Bull Connor of Birmingham, Alabama, and others of similar ilk, thereby exposing the injustice of the system of segregation — a system based on power and violence, preventing black Americans from enjoying the rights and liberties guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution.

One of the true heroes of that era was John Lewis, now a member of Congress from Atlanta, Georgia. A former chairman of SNCC  (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) from  1963 to 1966, Lewis was beaten to a bloody pulp for peacefully participating in a “Freedom Ride,” in which black and white Americans broke the law by refusing to accept segregation on the buses. What prompted Lewis and the Freedom Riders was the belief that their actions would force the federal government to enforce a law ignored by some Southern states that made segregation unconstitutional in interstate bus travel throughout the South.

Lewis’s struggle, and that of the movement of which he was a part, helped change America and made our country live up to its promise. The once segregated South now has more African-American officeholders than there are in the North. Transportation and accommodations are no longer segregated, and the local authorities are not beholden to the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens’ Councils of yesteryear.

A few days before the verdict was handed down, Lewis  proclaimed that unless Officer Wilson was indicted, a “miscarriage of justice” would occur that would demand nothing less than nation-wide “massive, non-violent” protests. This time, Lewis was arguing to ignore the law, and that only one pre-ordained verdict would be acceptable.  Where is the justice in that?

Lewis then compared Ferguson to Selma, Alabama, where, in 1965, marchers led by Lewis and others were turned back as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the state capitol. Lewis said that in Ferguson “the same feeling and climate and environment” exists as existed  in segregationist Alabama. In Selma, state troopers turned them back and, when they stopped to pray, beat them with nightsticks; Lewis suffered a fractured skull. Now he says that  “we’re going to have the same reaction as people had towards Selma,” which is simply a preposterous analogy. In one case, protestors were demanding their rights as Americans.  Today, a jury which included African-Americans examined the evidence and came to the conclusion that there was no reason to indict an innocent cop.

There were more protests throughout the country.  At the White House, scores of people gathered outside, where they sang the civil rights movement’s anthem, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” sung in Selma and elsewhere. These protesters, too, were accepting the myth that Selma and Ferguson are one and the same.

In New York, Maryland, California and other states, protesters blocked major highways and tunnels, preventing traffic from moving in major thoroughfares. In Ferguson, in a second night of rioting, this time with National Guardsmen on duty, many were arrested as acts of violence persisted. No one, it seems, was listening to John Lewis’ plea for non-violence. When someone like Lewis uses the very same arguments as the race hustlers, who have for months incited the crowd to take to the streets in any manner they see fit, pleas for peaceful protest fall on deaf ears.

Even the usually astute and anti-totalitarian writer Paul Berman fell for the false analogy. As he sat at a bar having a drink, he writes in Tablet, marchers appeared suddenly on the street.  He at first thought the marchers might include Maoists and pro-Hamas elements, and hence he wanted no part of them. But hearing their slogans of “no justice, no peace” and “Hands up. Don’t shoot” (which we now know was not what happened) and seeing placards denouncing “racist cops,” Berman quickly changed his mind. “I approved the march,” he writes, seeing it as an anti-racist march not connected with the charges against Wilson. So without paying his bill at the bar, he raced to join them for a short time on New York City’s Sixth Avenue, regretting that he had not “participated more,” since he had to return to settle his tab. He agrees with their signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” which of course they do — though that has nothing whatsoever to do with the claim that Wilson must be guilty of murder and that Michael Brown was an innocent child murdered by a racist cop.

The real case has been best put, I think, by Rich Lowry:

The case is a terrible tragedy. But it isn’t a metaphor for police brutality or race repression or anything else, and never was. Aided and abetted by a compliant national media, the Ferguson protesters spun a dishonest or misinformed version of what happened — Michael Brown murdered in cold blood while trying to surrender — into a meme and a chant (“hands up, don’t shoot”), and then a mini-movement.

When the facts didn’t back their narrative, they dismissed the facts and retreated into paranoid suspicion of the legal system.

The demand that a trial should have been held and the attacks on prosecutor Robert McCulloch, a powerful Democratic Party leader in Missouri, for not leading the jury to an indictment are also nonsensical. Clearly, McCulloch was goaded into convening a grand jury when he never wanted to do that. So he set before the jury all the evidence, thus letting them see for themselves the truth. To the protestors, this is simply more proof that he, too, was a pro-cop racist (see, for example, the implication of racism filed by Nation writer John Nichols). And another Nation writer, Mychal Denzel Smith, asks: “But what is justice in a nation built on white supremacy and the destruction of black bodies?”

Their true concern, then, is not justice for Michael Brown, but rather to use his death as an excuse to show that the United States itself is the culprit — since it is an unjust and racist nation.

The old civil rights movement knew that racism was a cancer upon a nation that had to be eradicated.   Today’s “movement,” a pale imitation of the real movement of the late ’50s and early ’60s, which sought justice and freedom for its black citizens. The race hustlers and anarchists and communist groups that rushed to Ferguson and egged the black community on, counting on the kind of riots that took place, more resemble a lynch mob.  “No justice, no peace” indeed. When the smoke clears, the citizens of Ferguson will be left with a devastated town with fewer jobs and places to shop.  They will be the real victims.