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After Ferguson, what now?

Miodrag Soric / cc
August 26, 2014

More than two weeks after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, St. Louis is mourning the young black teenager. Taking steps to end racism in the US is also in the interest of white people, says DW's Miodrag Soric.

Protesters in Ferguson
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Racism in America - it's hardly a new subject. But many thought that the election of the country's first black president signaled the problem might soon belong to the past. The man in the White House has, after all, personally experienced discrimination against black people. In his election campaign, Barack Obama promised to unite the divided nation and ensure better protection for minorities. The president is a great orator. Millions of African-Americans had high hopes that the fight for equal rights could draw to a close.

This was also the hope of the people of Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of St. Louis in the state of Missouri. They believed that Obama would give them money for their schools. They expected "their man" in Washington to provide them with more jobs. In the meantime, they hoped the president would put a stop to the routine discrimination by the police, the courts, and local politicians.

Miodrag Soric
DW's Miodrag SoricImage: privat

Today, if you ask the people of Ferguson about the most powerful man in the United States, you get disparaging or cynical replies: "Obama's done nothing for us."

Enduring anger

Their disappointment is understandable. There's tremendous anger over the shooting, yet again, of an unarmed black man by a white policeman. Surveys indicate that the majority of African-Americans don't believe there will be a fair trial. They have no faith in the American justice system, citing the public prosecutor in charge of the investigation in Ferguson as a case in point. His family has close ties with the local police. The parents of victim Michael Brown will have to wait a long time for the shooter - policeman Darren Wilson - to be arrested. Wilson has gone off the radar. The local police are keeping him hidden - arguing this is for his own protection. The fact that they have not arrested the perpetrator is fueling mistrust among African-Americans.

Michael Brown's death is not an isolated incident. There have been several similar events in the past few weeks alone. In comparison with their colleagues in Western Europe, police in the US are often poorly trained, poorly paid, and unable to properly handle demonstrations. They reach far too quickly for their guns. Local policemen even have military equipment, which was entrusted to them by the government in Washington after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President Obama is now questioning whether this was a correct and sensible thing to do. He wants Congress to investigate the issue - but that will take years. The people of Ferguson don't expect much to come of it.

They cite the facts, which they say haven't changed in decades. They claim black people are punished far more severely for the same crimes than white people. The police - not only in Ferguson - often treat them disrespectfully. Equal rights for all? That's not the situation in the United States. And many African-Americans are asking themselves: If a black president couldn't change that after many years in office, who can?

Perhaps change will come with the imminent demographic shift. Long-term, it can't be in white people's interests to discriminate against minorities - because in 20 to 30 years they will be a minority in the United States themselves. Then what?

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