Demonstratorson Tuesday protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Updated: August 20, 2014 2:19AM
Could it be that our long national nightmare is just beginning?
Could it be that after decade upon decade of refusing to address the cost of racism in America, the bill has finally come due?
The protests in Ferguson, Mo., the arrests, the shootings, the armored vehicles, the police in full battle regalia indiscriminately training military-style rifles on unarmed citizens, the clouds of tear gas, the Molotov cocktails, the social media “reporting” of both hard truth and dangerous rumor as if there were no distinction between the two — could it be that this is our new normal?
Ferguson has become America’s nightly reality show. During the day, we get talking heads, and during the night, we get clouds of tear gas.
It is often difficult to tell which is denser.
The truth should not be hidden. The truth should be revealed. But truth is often hard to come by as the battle is still unfolding.
Instead, the fog of war has come home to America.
President Barack Obama has offered little help thus far. Ferguson is a racial dispute, and the president would rather talk about Iraq or just about anything other than race.
He appeared in the White House briefing room Monday without a necktie to signal he technically was still on vacation.
“Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to move forward together.”
The words seem to have been assembled by committee. They did not seem to have originated in the president’s heart or soul.
“I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other,” the president reminded us.
Actually, I wouldn’t mind if he jumped on the scale with both feet, as long as he came down on the side of justice.
“We’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances ... and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior,” the president said.
Yeah, fine. But tell us how we are going to do that before you go back to Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. President.
Obama’s entire statement, which included more on Iraq than it did on Ferguson, and the few questions that followed consumed exactly 27 minutes of his time Monday afternoon.
That evening, he spent five hours at dinner at the home of White House chef Sam Kass, who is also the president’s frequent golfing partner.
The president needs time to relax. But so do the people of Ferguson.
True, perspective is called for.
Since the tragic killing of Michael Brown, there have been (as I write this) no additional fatal shootings and only a few dozen arrests. For all the police hardware and “asymmetric” response, for all the anger of some in the crowds, the violence on both sides has been light.
In 1992, the Los Angeles riots that resulted from the beating of Rodney King left 53 dead, more than 2,000 injured and $1 billion in property damage. Not only did the National Guard have to be called out but also the 7th Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division were there.
Nothing like that is happening in Ferguson. Let us count our blessings. And hope they continue.
But what will be the lasting result?
Last year, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, it looked like a good time for Americans to start a genuine dialogue on race.
But President Obama wanted no part of it.
“You know, there has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race,” Obama said. “I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.”
As David Maraniss, whose biography of Obama was published in 2012, wrote, “once Obama reached the White House, it appeared that his intense interest in the subject (of race) diminished. He would be judged by the content of his presidency, not the color of his skin. Race seemingly became unimportant, if not irrelevant, to the first black president of the United States.”
Obama is ready to go back to Martha’s Vineyard.
Ferguson? Well, Attorney General Eric Holder is headed to Ferguson, and maybe he will find a way for all concerned “to heal rather than to wound each other.”
Obama? In a few weeks, he is supposed to go to Estonia and then Wales.
Racial unrest in America? Maybe if we refuse to talk about it, we will get lucky and it will all go away. Nightmares sometimes do.
But I wouldn’t count on it.