‘African American Witnesses’ and the social tragedy of Ferguson

Monday night an American city burned.

Celebration: “Protestors” parade in the parking lot of a burning auto parts store in Ferguson following the grand jury decision. Hopefully the fellow on the left was able to get a tasteful selfy.

There were many, many repellent images and ideas to come out of the fires of Ferguson,


Looters at the Ferguson Meat and Liquor, a store decorated with images seemingly in solidarity with the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement.

But perhaps the most repellent, and the one that looms the largest over the post-riot dialogue is the invocation of “African American witnesses”;

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly correctly diagnoses the malignancy of rabble-rowsers such as Al Sharpton but she overlooks what I think is the more significant (and more ominous) development, the invocation of “African American witnesses” by both reporters and prosecutor. That this phrase is even used is an indictment of the current interracial climate of the United States: a tacit admission that at this point in time there is a presumption that the oath of truthfulness a witness takes holds less sway over them then racial solidarity. It’s another way of saying that there is so little trust in the system and the police that African Americans will not trust the sworn testimony of random eyewitnesses, if those witnesses are the wrong skin color.

If that strikes you as no big deal, I invite you to reverse the races at issue and to imagine the scene had a reporter asked “where there any white witnesses that testified?”

We’re six years into the term of the first Black president, with an African American man as Attorney General for that same amount of time, about to be replaced by (presumably) an African American woman. Yet faith in the judicial system is so low that revealing reams of documents from the grand jury intensifies racial paranoia across the country rather then calming it. For all the criticism of Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s comments that ‘the overwhelming majority of blacks are killed by other blacks‘, this is a fact, which has been argued about for decades. Martin Luther King Jr. himself noted the terrible phenomenon;

“Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in 1961. “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

That was fifty years ago. Today, the structural, formal racism of that era has been all but banished from America. For all that today we are told that the race of witnesses is of great importance and that ‘police need to look like the people they police’. Dr. King’s dream of people being being judged by “the content of their character” has never been further away.


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