The International Writers Magazine: Ferguson Tinder-Box Politics
The Gates of Hell
“Let Them Lose Their Souls! They’re Animals Anyway” – The Godfather
If you are willing to accept that historical phenomena develop according to their own logic and independently of any efforts to control them, like the natural laws of the universe, then the ever-widening reverberations of the Ferguson MO mega-scandal seem to resemble a galactic Black Hole of destruction that threatens to suck the entire nation into chaos and ultimate oblivion. Right now it’s at the tectonic fault line stage, where the historic plates are grinding together with cataclysmic intensity. But it could erupt at any time into a lava-spewing Big Bang orgy of destructive fury.
Ferguson MO is the story that Tom Wolfe wishes he could have written for “The Bonfire of the Vanities”, but the conceits of 1970’s New York society come nowhere the unbearably ugly reality that was revealed when the nasty rock of Missouri Republican politics was turned over and a flashlight shone on the ghastly creepy-crawlies that were revealed to be slithering underneath. Ferguson MO is too big a story for a pop-art writer like Wolfe. The unfolding depth and breadth of its dimension require a comprehensive witness on the order of Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens, a classical novelist whose genre doesn’t exist today.
Living in New York, you eventually get to meet everybody, and I used to occasionally run into Watergate investigative reporter Carl Bernstein when I worked out at the 92nd Street Y. Believe me, he was not the sharpest tool in the box, and while he may have stepped into good luck connecting the dots that traced from the Watergate burglary to the Nixon Oval Office, he would have been underqualified to cover the myriad dimensions of the still-unfolding Ferguson scandals. That writer doesn’t exist today, and no news organization seems willing to consecrate the resources to follow up the story with the meticulous attention it demands.
The details that have so far emerged represent an all-white, Republican city government whose stated goal was to extract as much revenue as it could squeeze from its low-end black inhabitants by means of extortion, through city taxes and fees, excessive traffic citations and onerous court costs over petty and vindictive police complaints, to an extent that each household in the city is tied up in court on an average of three violations, which lead to court costs, late fees, fines and time served in privately-run jail systems. All of it has been enforced in an exacting reign of terror by an enthusiastic all-white police department.
But if you would investigate more deeply, I’m sure that it is a scandal which involves allocation of federal and state funding to politically connected persons and business entities at every level, including schools, infrastructure, services, etc. This nut is too big to be covered by a few unpaid Huffington Post stringers loitering at the police barricades on the town’s main drag. Basically, I feel that the Obama administration feels inhibited about investigating the whole mess for fear of exacerbating racial tensions right before an election, and the commercial media, who are all processed cheese slices anyway, are practicing self-censorship under the guise of “social responsibility”.
Nevertheless, the story keeps getting tackier and tackier. What really projected it into the magical realism realm of “The Bonfire of the Vanities” is the revelation that the all-white Republican public relations firm engaged by the Ferguson MO city administration to enhance the civic image, not having a clue how to proceed with its whitewash, brought in a “PR Operative”, a Black operative named Devin James to at least engage with the restive population at the street level. James received a $100,000 fee to go into the street and talk to the protesters. He did this as effectively as he could, shaking hands and noting down grievances, and what else can you do? Until it was revealed that James himself had been convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in his house and then chasing him down and administering a coup de grace to the guy right in the street. Somehow, James managed to avoid much jail time, but he still had a felony conviction for killing the man, which only came to light through an anonymous tip phoned into a local newspaper. When confronted with the facts, James complained, “A criminal record and the exercise of public relations are separate issues”. This might seem somewhat disingenuous, but the guy has a point: In the stinking cesspool of Ferguson civic politics, what is one more dead guy, more or less?
I would go and cover the story myself, but I have got my own problems and nobody to pick up the tab. I wouldn’t hang around the Ferguson Macdonalds waiting to be pepper sprayed by some bullet-head redneck cop. Like Emile Zola, I would be trying to get into the houses of a couple of local citizens to get some personal accounts of what it is like to have to live in that Porto-San of a city, and then I would try to substantiate their complaints by delving into the municipal public records. But the way I am given to understand it now, the Ferguson City Council has dramatically increased fees for viewing public records to a level that only the Koch brothers can afford, hundreds of bucks for even accessing an old traffic ticket.
Ferguson’s district attorney, another Republican appointee, is still conducting his investigation, he says, but he still hasn’t questioned the cop who did the shooting of Michael Brown, even though it’s been months since the crime occurred. The DA empaneled a grand jury, which is normally composed of elderly, retired white voters since they are the only people who have the time and resources to deliberate for months at a time, but he hasn’t presented them with a case or any guidance whatsoever, leaving them to lounge around and do whatever they want, you know I mean? It’s obvious that the prosecution strategy is to stall long enough for the Ferguson atrocity to be eclipsed by some newer atrocity, so that they can get back to the normal business of running the place like a ghastly banana republic.
As more details emerge, it becomes apparent that there needs to be a forensic auditing of Ferguson's city government, which, I am sure will be a dramatic eye-opener. That money is going into somebody's pocket. Ferguson is a prime patronage plum of the St. Louis County Republican Party. The current mayor, James Knowles III, who is the politically connected former chairman of the Missouri Young Republicans, was parachuted in as Ferguson mayor and elected by getting 1,213 votes out of a town of 21,000 residents. These voters were surely all municipal employees because nobody else even knew that there was an election going on. Just to further suppress voter participation to the vanishing point; Ferguson has moved its municipal elections from the traditional November date to April, when springtime and baseball are the only things on people's minds, and not city council elections featuring bland white Republicans. Nobody knows how they got there, or what they are doing.
Taken all together, Ferguson resembles a perfectly oiled extortion racket, like Sing-Sing, and just as brutally enforced. The cop in the shooting has yet to submit to questioning. I bet he got some stories he could tell, and that is why they are in no rush to interrogate him! This cop reacted like a prison guard who feels disrespected by an inmate, and he felt emboldened to respond with devastating force. This is how things are done in the lockdown environment of Ferguson MO, and that's what the cops were enforcing, lockdown. Every single household in the city of Ferguson has three outstanding police complaints against it, with court appearances, fines, late fees, you name it! Citizens had better toe the line, like being in jail. It's the natural law of the jungle.
The only good thing about Ferguson MO is that it an excellent civics lesson for understanding American municipal politics. The same shit is going on everywhere else as well.
© Dean Borok 10.08. 2014
St. Louis Blues
Ferguson MO is a fascinating control group for anybody interested in speculating how far American attitudes have progressed during the last 150 years.