Ferguson protests reignite historical racial tensions


Christine Politte, Web Editor/Associate Editor

In August, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson. The combination of preexisting tensions and anger over the handling of the investigation resulted in days of protests, riots and looting. The incident raised a variety of issues, ranging from racial biases to police militarization. It has been thrust into the national and international spotlight, decried as “shocking” by the New York Times, stltoday.com, and many more.

But Ferguson is far from being a one-of-a-kind incident, according to Mr. McAnulty, social studies teacher.

“This is not new. It has happened time and time again in history,” he said, pointing to a number of similar incidents over the years.

In 1917, race riots broke out in East St. Louis after competition for jobs between whites and blacks built up tension.

Similar tensions existed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, when news of a black teenager allegedly attacking a white woman led to the destruction of a wealthy black neighborhood and at least 50 deaths.

In 1965, the six-day Watts Riots in Los Angeles began after an African American man was mistreated at a traffic stop, resulting in 34 deaths.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, in 1968, riots broke out across the country, once again at a time of great tension.

And 22 years ago, the beating of Rodney King, a black man, by white police officers spurred another five days of rioting in Los Angeles. The riots only stopped with the deployment of federal troops and the National Guard after 53 deaths, according to cnn.com.

“It’s a process,” said McAnulty. “There wasn’t any direct change from one specific event. What you see is over time, you see a lot of civil rights legislations being passed. Anti-lynching laws, voting rights act, anti-discrimination laws—these all came about because of these historical events.”
Ferguson, McAnulty, said, is a part of this process, although it’s unclear exactly how large of a lasting impact it will have.

Some reforms have already resulted from Ferguson, including the creation of a state Office of Community Engagement in September by Governor Nixon. According to stltoday.com, the office is meant to target the unique issues faced by low-income and minority communities like Ferguson.

Additionally, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a press conference Sept. 4 that he was opening a civil rights investigation in Ferguson.

“As these efforts unfold, my colleagues and I will keep working with the people in Ferguson to ensure that a fair, thorough investigation occurs, to see that dialogue can be translated into concrete action, and to facilitate lasting, positive change,” said Holder.

Although Holder is stepping down from his position, the investigation is expected to continue.
Mr. Cloud, math teacher, doubts that Ferguson will be the last incident of its kind. Until people learn to take their time to analyze all the facts, he said, “sadly, this situation is going to rise again.”
Senior Cameron Keys is also not optimistic that Ferguson will result in any lasting changes, or even that the accused police officer will face justice.

“[Wilson]’s not gonna get any jail time,” said Keys. “He’s just gonna get off. That’s how the real world works.”

McAnulty, however, is holding out hope that Ferguson could be different from its predecessors.
“[Ferguson has] allowed people to have dialogue about these issues,” McAnulty said.

Without dialogue, he believes there is no chance of finding any solutions.

“I hope the dialogue remains open,” said McAnulty. “I hope that when the next news story comes along, we don’t move on.”