This is a summary of a discussion held on On Point from WBUR Boston. The topic is the recent killing of a black man in Ferguson and the pursuant unrest in that town and the country. The guest on the show was Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history and director of Africana studies at the University of Connecticut. He is a frequent writer in the New Yorker magazine. Mr. Cobb spent eight days in Ferguson trying to better understand what happened. The discussion below goes beyond the recent events in Ferguson and tries to get at the why.We have a racial divide and a divide with our history of lynching blacks. This is certainly the case with white Americans and many black Americans. Michael Brown's death brought about memories of these hangings. Michael Brown's body lay on the street for four hours and it was like the spectacle of the lynchings of blacks peppered in this nations history. A major purpose of the lynchings was to say to blacks “know your place and behave”. Per Professor Cobb, this was the most important point leading to the unrest in Ferguson.
There seemed to be no concern for the humanity of the black population of Ferguson. There was a teacher in Cobb's past that told him he should be careful because there are white people who would fear him because of his size. He was taught if he was in an elevator with a white women he should exit first so she has no fear created because there was a black man behind her.
Cobb was disturbed there was so many instances where when talking about the incident Mr. Brown's size would be mentioned effectively saying he was “armed” so be careful. As a white man, I verify this is true.
Cassius from Detroit called in to say it is frustrating that those who are empowered to protect us do not look at the black community as part of the citizens that they are suppose to protect. They abused the authority given to them. There was no accountability. Mr. Cobb indicated this also happened to the press. Reporters were detained and arrested. It was like “municipal shock and awe” to use a phrase from the first invasion of Iraq.
People need to register and vote. The victories of the 1960's is not secure and everyone must stay vigilant. Mr. Cobb expects more involvement with more blacks registering to vote.
Many whites said “This could happen anywhere.” and from a black perspective Mr. Cobb said that was a scary statement. The whites making such statements were trying to give comfort but in fact it was very concerning that the white community thought like this. A common thread in the many riots this nation has had is police brutality.
One white caller said where were the black groups like the NAACP speaking out and assisting in trying to prevent black gangs terrorizing cities like Chicago. Professor Cobb points out there is a major difference between gang violence and misbehavior and police wrong doing.
Much of the crime perpetrated by gangs is committed on the black community and the black community wants it eradicated more than anyone else. He finds it somewhat odd that many whites think blacks are not aware of this. The black community has more to gain from its reduction than anyone.
Mr. Cobb says that if you are a black male and large you will draw more concern by the police than if you are white with an average size body. Mr. Cobb than told of an incident in 2010 while he was teaching in Russia and when the subways were bombed. He got on a train and as a women dressed as a Muslim got onto the subway everyone tensed up including Mr. Cobb.
Nationally Mr. Cobb says we need a bigger conversation about policing.
Below is a link to the audio and I encourage everyone to listen to it.