When I was in high school, quite a number of my classmates lived in Ferguson, Missouri. Then it was a blue collar suburb of St. Louis and many of its people worked in the factories that dotted North St. Louis. Over the years it has changed from a slightly gritty, mostly white working class suburb to a much tougher and all but entirely black enclave.

The factories are mostly gone, too, replaced by housing, warehouses, and empty spaces where factories used to be.

Joseph Epstein sees something missing from Ferguson and the episode of the killing of a black teenager (who would have been called “an adult” 50 years ago) by a policeman that has been attended by demonstrations and looting:

Missing, not that anyone is likely to have noticed, was the calming voice of a national civil-rights leader of the kind that was so impressive during the 1950s and ’60s. In those days there was Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young of the National Urban League, Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute—all solid, serious men, each impressive in different ways, who through dignified forbearance and strategic action, brought down a body of unequivocally immoral laws aimed at America’s black population.

King died in 1968, at age 39; Young in 1971 at 50; Wilkins in 1981 at 80; and Rustin in 1987 at 75. None has been replaced by men of anywhere near the same high caliber. In their place today there is only Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, each of whom long ago divested himself of the moral force required of true leadership. One of the small but genuine accomplishments of President Obama has been to keep both of these men from becoming associated with the White House.

I don’t think that’s all that’s missing. The development he mourns parallels a development in the society as a whole, a loss of anything resembling community in favor of “looking out for #1”.

My mom used to point out that many of the poor, black kids she taught had the life ambition of being a “cat”, someone who hung out on street corners and made their livings in ways that were not obvious and probably not legal. Her explanation was that it was all that they knew. The dominance of what has been deemed “race hustling” parallels that. These are “cats” whose domain is the land between not-for-profits and government or large corporations.

What are missing are jobs. What is missing is hope.

15 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw

    According to my morning paper, the city is about 70% black and 50 of 53 police officers are white. The chief said he has tried to recruit black officers and promote within, but one of the black officers promoted left for a better paying job. I wonder why there are not more black men going into the police. I assume the advantage of the “cat” can be the excitement of the job, unless the advantage is to not have to work very hard. In most cities, a police job would be a ticket to a middle class life, and in many parts of the country a black man would have the superior shot at the position.

  • CStanley

    The distrust between the black citizens of that town and the police force seems enormous. That dynamic isn’t unusual but the degree of it seems very high.

    So to PDs point, there’s a chicken or egg question as to this distrust and young blacks not trying to join the police force.

  • PD:

    According to my morning paper, the city is about 70% black and 50 of 53 police officers are white. The chief said he has tried to recruit black officers and promote within, but one of the black officers promoted left for a better paying job.

    Sadly, it isn’t an unusual problem. A very high proportion of young black men can’t qualify for reasons of previous criminal record or any of several reasons.

    I don’t know what the requirements in Ferguson are but here in Chicago police officers are required to have a college degree, four years of military service, or one year of military service and an associates degree. Combine that with high rates of previous criminal record and/or problems facing drug tests and there’s quite a barrier.

    Good black officers, just like good black students, are a highly sought-after commodity and have lots of alternatives.

  • That’s the difference between north and south. Vidalia, LA, voted in a black police chief.

  • Seems to me what is missing is “willingness.”

  • One thing I have not seen remarked upon in the coverage is whether or not the man that got shot had a record. That would seem an important consideration either way.

    The record of the officer is also important, but that absence has been remarked upon.

  • PD Shaw

    This morning on a St. Louis radio station, they were commenting on the eyewitness who is being interviewed by the media, but apparently won’t talk to the cops because he has a prior arrest history and might even be wanted for unrelated charges. A quick google to see if this has changed shows that Daily Kos and similar sites are saying the police are refusing to interview the witness.

    If we are lucky, there will only be two opposing narratives.

  • steve

    Seems to me that we are missing serious well intentioned people all throughout our body politic. Party allegiance, ideology and personal gain are the norm.


  • That’s a younger George Will statement, Steve.

    Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does

  • SMU is a good school, too.

  • Another writer also:

    Obligation and the Body Politic

    Yes, I did take a course in political science. Brad Carter at SMU. He was friends with the better calculus prof at Reed. It is indeed a small world.

  • Then you got that lawyer out of Knoxville.

  • So-called.

  • Academics on the whole can kiss my ass.

  • Yeah, that’s sh*t southern women say, too.

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