Americans of all hues and stripes last week were justifiably remembering the 1965 police repression of civil rights marchers in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named, ironically, for a Confederate general and erstwhile chieftain of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The confrontation, killing one and injuring many, was the Bloody Sunday that helped trigger the ensuing civil rights legislation providing equal protection for blacks in official America.
But, once the call for "free at last, free at last" was constitutionally registered, is it fair for all Americans now to ask, fifty years later, what black Americans have done with their vociferously and widely welcomed "freedom." Or, more to the point, what has been done to them by a liberal America in the name of "racism?"
Simultaneously with the Selma commemorations has been the acrimonious happenings in Ferguson, Missouri, where, following the exoneration of a police officer who shot to death a black teenager, we now see a Department of Justice indictment of the entire Ferguson police department for systematic racial prejudice.
The shooting in Ferguson was followed by a similar police shooting of a black youth in Madison, Wisconsin, where various press reports show the victim there to hardly have been a mere innocent, whether "armed" or not. (Associated Press, March 9).
What questions do the American public deserve to ask in response to these incidents and in other American cities, where not only have local citizens been killed by police acting presumably in the line of duty, but where police officers themselves have been murdered? What is it that drives the interface between "unarmed black youths" and police forces?
Today there is a growing crescendo of authoritative writers and observers who are much more conversant with the condition of black Americans than most of us, including this writer, who are determined to acknowledge the social devastation that generations of government "benevolence" has wrought on black society, a crescendo which take us in a much different direction than "police brutality." Why, these voices are stridently asking, and answering, have Ferguson and Madison followed the promise of Selma?
Shelby Steele (National Review, March 9) vividly describes his confrontation with a mostly white American audience whose members refuse to acknowledge the weakening of personal responsibility and work ethic in black communities and the resultant underachievement, preferring instead to concentrate on a "moral relativism" that "disassociates" personal behavior - social, sexual and academic - from the group failure that characterizes so many black communities. For Steele, it is the "liberal, post-civil rights" era that has exonerated blacks from any culpability for this systemic failure. We "cannot blame the victim," the liberal mantra insists, but must look only at America's historic repression of blacks for both the cause and the answer of this failure.
Jason Riley, author of "Please Stop Helping Us," examines the disintegration of the black family - notably the eradication of fatherhood - that is responsible for a black culture that rejects personal achievement and academic and social progress among black youth. (Imprimis, January, 2015). For Riley, Ferguson is the epitome of a "false anti-cop narrative" that refuses to acknowledge the aberrant behavior of black males for the disproportionate black crime statistics, crime that pits mostly black against black rather than an artificial "white racism." It is the liberal Left today, composed of white and black leaders, cashing in on "white guilt" for generating lavish welfare expenditures that control the very civic and welfare institutions in black communities that insist on replacing traditional notions of responsibility with mantras of "self-expression" and "victimhood." Riley reaches into distant black history - the histories of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglas - voices that early on demanded black responsibility and self-help rather than the exaggerated and destructive "government benevolence" of today.
Walter Williams has written extensively over the years describing the devastation that low expectations of black Americans has had on black urban culture. "Racial discrimination" has much less to do with the crime, poverty and squalor of black communities than do Democratic and black politicians who drive the civil rights agenda. Being a "35-year old grandmother" and rarely seeing fathers and husbands in the community is a guarantee for school dropout, poverty and crime, none of which has anything to do with "racial discrimination." For Williams, it is the civil rights leaders and the "liberal elite," black or white, who benefit politically and financially by keeping black Americans in a "constant state of grievance" based on alleged racial discrimination. Add "academics and the news media" to the list of culprits and you have Williams' full retinue of the enemies of black Americans.
Thomas Sowell, a professional economist and perennial éminence noire for liberal America, consistently points to the economic results of a collapsed black minority culture. Comparing the early black leaders, including those at Selma fifty years ago, as the "noble souls" of the civil rights movement to today's "shameless charlatans," he looks at the reverse discrimination of today as a cynical payback for past injustices. He cites demands such as minimum wages and unqualified loans and mortgages simply as the left's investment in "black failure" which we see today in the breakdown of the family, abolition of fatherhood and academic underachievement. Ferguson, for Sowell, is the epitome of the "disparate impact racket" that has driven so much reverse racism. The Department of Justice's condemnation of the Ferguson police department he condemns as "statistically reckless." When a population anywhere is three-fourths black, it is likely that the number of driving citations will reflect that arithmetic (National Review, March 10).
Dr. Ben Carson is poised to interject "reverse discrimination" directly into presidential politics and seems determined to challenge the narrative of "white guilt." As a potential presidential candidate, he is referring to the social breakdown in black communities and welfare dependency reminiscent of Mitt Romney's "47%" two years ago, perhaps this time more persuasively.
Juan Williams on Fox News (March 8) calls for applying the same "moral clarity" that has long enabled us to understand the original civil rights movement and the Bull Connors of yesteryear that triggered it, to an understanding of the role of "black people" today that it ostensibly represents, as nothing more than a "special interest group" on behalf of "Democrats." For him the onus of "moral clarity" falls on today's black leadership that ignores the family breakdown, crime and bad schools. "White guilt" no longer carries the civil rights movement to the "next plateau" of equality.
The sum of these voices paints a picture of generations of Americans hopelessly locked into a dependency cycle from which they can never escape, generations of American citizens who will never be able to add constructively to society.
Historians one day may acknowledge an "anti-discriminationism" ideology that lies behind it all, an "ism" as destructive of modern societies as were the "isms" of yesteryear that devastated the societies of earlier times.
If Selma today represents anything, it is a metaphor of opportunity squandered, a false notion of "freedom now" that has stripped Americans of all descriptions of the moral and civic guidelines and sense of personal responsibilities that make any society work.
So, just where has the Selma bridge led to, not just for black Americans but for all of us together? And how, the obvious question is, should police departments react when confronted by communities hostile to the very civic and social institutions they are hired to protect?
British composers Gilbert and Sullivan, astute observers of the plight of 19th century British policemen facing the urban turmoil of their Victorian England captured the dilemma with their masterly wit by complaining that:
When constabulary duty's to be done,
to be done,
a policeman's lot is not an 'appy one.
To gauge the role of overly-challenged police forces today, one might ask what would happen if every police force in the USA at a given time on a given day went on strike for one hour? What would we learn?
. . . Whitney Galbraith