I wish there were a way to address the Ferguson controversy without generating further controversy. But that’s not an easy task.
I have believed for some time that the Obama administration has fanned the flames of racial tension in this country rather than attempt to extinguish them, despite its claims to the contrary. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, in my view, have been the main culprits, which is exceedingly unfortunate, considering the opportunity their historic roles present for making great strides toward racial harmony.
The question is: Do these gentlemen truly want to promote racial harmony?
If President Obama were trying to alleviate racial tensions, would he have accused the police department in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of “acting stupidly” in arresting a friend of his, Harvard professor Henry Gates? The statement was stunningly inappropriate because he took sides reflexively without benefit of all the facts and because presidents have no business weighing in on such local matters. Does anyone doubt that race was at the forefront of Obama’s mind?
But if there was any doubt, Obama removed it when “the main message” he chose to impart from the Trayvon Martin matter was implied in this bizarre statement: “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Fast-forward to the present and we learn that just days after the grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson based on his shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the White House tweeted its endorsement of an article by Christopher Emdin, Ph.D., a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. The piece, “5 Ways to Teach About Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year,” appeared on The Huffington Post less than two weeks after the shooting incident and before all the facts were in and the grand jury was impaneled. In his introductory paragraphs, Emdin advises teachers and parents not to ignore these types of events: “Bringing the events in Ferguson to the classroom is not only best teaching practice but a way to establish powerful expectations for the academic year.”
Parts of the article appear innocuous, such as the suggestion that teachers ask students what they have heard or know about Brown in order to “spark a powerful discussion that sets the tone for the school year.” The teachers can use information gathered by the class to help “students unearth the facts, fiction, and mistruths in media coverage of the events in Ferguson.”
But given the diametrically opposed views concerning the evidence, how would this professor propose to help students separate fact and fiction? Even after the grand jury decision, which was based on facts and evidence, people continue to have radically different views of what occurred.
Other parts of Emdin’s article, unfortunately, are not so harmless. He tells teachers that students can “create a memorial to Michael Brown on a classroom bulletin board. This activity involves having students use whatever they feel skilled in to create something that would honor Michael Brown and other people who have been victims of police and other violence.” Also, “students can use this opportunity to create a counternarrative to negative stories and images about Ferguson and Michael Brown.”
Professor Emdin can advocate whatever he wants, but the president of the United States is endorsing his suggestions. This means that the chief executive officer of this nation is inspiring teachers to view Brown as a victim of police violence and to honor him as such.
Irrespective of whether young black men are disproportionately mistreated by law enforcement in this nation, that doesn’t seem to be what occurred in the Ferguson case.
Isn’t President Obama, by depicting Brown as a victim, undermining the grand jury in this case specifically and law enforcement and the justice system in general? Isn’t he fomenting further distrust between the black community and law enforcement when it isn’t warranted in this case? By taking this position, isn’t he exacerbating racial tensions rather than helping to heal them?
Attorney General Holder, by refusing to honor the grand jury’s findings and close the Department of Justice’s investigation, similarly is creating the very kind of distrust that ostensibly ignited the senseless, abhorrent rioting and violence that have occurred in Ferguson. This assumes the riots were not orchestrated in advance by nihilists who used the grand jury’s decision as an excuse.
If Obama and Holder want to raise public awareness about the mistreatment of blacks in the system, aren’t they damaging their own cause by using a case in which the facts don’t support that narrative? Why would they trivialize their cause?
This president promised to build on the racial harmony that was evidenced by his election to office, but he continues to breach that promise, which is resulting in increased racial tensions and a disintegration of the rule of law and that which it makes possible — ordered liberty.
President Obama and Eric Holder should use this occasion to rise above their own biases and unambiguously condemn the anarchy that has occurred in Ferguson over the past week and discontinue using this case as evidence of something that it is not. Americans deserve better.