After violence erupted in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, Barack Obama did little to calm the waters. Oh yes, he made the mandatory pronouncement about how rioting and attacking the police were not acceptable, but there was little passion in his words.
Then he compounded the problem by attempting to be even-handed. He opined how the police were required to respect peaceful protests and not over-react. They ought not have brought out the riot gear or armored personal carriers to confront what was basically a civil rights demonstration.
But this was no civil rights march. This was a full-blown rampage. The pictures of people gleefully pillaging retail outlets looked very much like a mini-Watts. Added to this, shots were fired and Molotov cocktails thrown.
It has been argued that some people — some outsiders — got out of control and therefore the peaceable residents of Ferguson should not be punished. But that is like saying most Moslems are pacific and therefore we should never have sought to punish al-Qaida for 9/11.
Law and order is not just a phrase. If it is to exist, it must be upheld. Allowing the thugs to run rampant essentially gives them permission to be as vicious as they want to be. Fear of hurting their feelings is tantamount to applauding their hooliganism.
As for the alleged over-reaction of the police in attempting to restore order, that is a canard. No civilian heads were broken; no rioters shot; none of the perpetrators injured. It was the cops, thanks to their restraint, who were harmed.
Regarding that riot gear, were the police not supposed to protect themselves? Were they to stand there essentially naked and allow themselves to be pelted with stones? Years ago, when I was in the Army Reserve, we were trained in crowd control and I can assure you that the police, who are as human as anyone else, bleed when they are assaulted.
Now as to the causes of this nonsense: Why did the demonstrators in Ferguson go wild? Much of the blame can laid at the door of our president. Contrary to what he keeps saying, the economy is on life-support. Six years into his administration, good jobs have not come back.
That matters because the African-American community has been among the hardest hit. More blacks are out of work and/or underpaid than others. Naturally, they are hurting. In other words, their grievance is not altogether about police brutality, but a society that has deprived them of opportunity.
So whose fault is that? How about Barack Obama? His misguided policies have encouraged dependency rather than personal responsibility. In the name of making everyone equal, he has expanded the underclass. No wonder that those deprived of a chance to move up resent the authorities.
Then our president added to the difficulty by excusing the inexcusable. Michael Brown was a thug. He might not have been stopped for robbing the store he was caught on videotape raiding, yet his repugnant character was clearly revealed. He was not a nice “child.”
When we forget that, when we pretend this was irrelevant, we are complicit in the shooting. The police officer who fired that shot might not have had just cause, yet in immediately assuming a black teen was without culpability we indirectly abet future tragedies.
African-Americans have been badly treated in this country. Many still are. Nonetheless, in ignoring the role people play in their own degradation, we reinforce behavior that should not be tolerated.
Those who are not sanctioned for their thugery will continue in their self-defeating practices. By the same token, those who are indulgent of such conduct are asking for chaos and depravity. What sense does that make — for anyone?
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.