Circumstances surrounding the events of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9 continue to unfold and dominate national headlines. A family, community and country have been captivated by the events that evolve daily.
The events in Ferguson are tragic on many levels. A young man lost his life, a police officer’s future hangs in the balance, and the aftermath of the shooting includes nightly protests and the looting of property, on display for the world to see.
Another misfortune was the swiftness of how this unfortunate situation was hijacked and exploited by outsiders seeking to advance their personal agendas.
Black activists were among the first agitators to arrive in Ferguson. MSNBC host of “Politics Nation” and National Action Network President Al Sharpton made his appearance in Ferguson a few days after Mr. Brown’s death. As swift as an emergency responder, Mr. Sharpton inflated the racial demagoguery and rapidly amplified the emotions and tension in the community.
During Mr. Sharpton’s bombastic speech to the crowd at St. Louis’ Old Courthouse, he whipped up emotions by portraying Brown as a “gentle giant” and an innocent victim who died while trying to surrender with his hands up.
True to form and without all the facts, Mr. Sharpton elevated the tragedy in St. Louis as an example of racism in America saying, “The Band-Aid has been ripped off, and all of America is seeing the open wound of racism exists.”
Not to be outhustled by Mr. Sharpton, Jesse Jackson also made his way to Ferguson. Although Mr. Jackson was Johnny-come-lately to Ferguson, he quickly found the words to dial up the racial unrest. During an interview on MSNBC, Mr. Jackson described the Brown shooting as a “state execution.”
Importantly, these inflammatory remarks were seemingly based on comments made by Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who was present at the shooting. They were made before many of the subsequent facts of the case were known, including a physical altercation between Mr. Brown and police Officer Darren Wilson. According to news reports, the exchange resulted in a fractured orbital bone in Officer Wilson’s face.
While Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson delivered racially charged sound bites to the media, their presence was not welcomed by all. On Newsmax TV’s “The Steve Malzberg Show,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said, “I have the concern that we’ll lose sight of this young man and the tragedy and become clearly a national spectacle, instead of focusing on this young man and the issues at hand. Sometimes star power is not always a good thing.”
Mr. Jackson also ran into resistance when he was reportedly booed for seeking donations for his church during a march in the city.
Opportunism and politics are the driving motivation for Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson, who have made a living from promoting black victimization and playing the race card. Regardless of the facts, their involvement consistently points to the white establishment as the culprit of problems in the black community.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is keen on keeping the black community focused on race matters rather than on President Obama’s policy failures that have harmed black Americans. This is especially true as the country faces an important election in November.
Among black Americans, unemployment is unacceptably high at 11.4 percent, more than twice that among white Americans at 5.3 percent, and black teens have the highest rate of unemployment at 35 percent.
Ferguson, a largely black community, has significant economic challenges. Sixty-five percent of the St. Louis suburb is black with an average income of only $37,500, which is about $10,000 lower than the state average. While 15 percent of Missouri’s residents are below the poverty level, Ferguson’s rate is much higher at almost 25 percent.
In 2012, Mr. Brown’s high school lost accreditation and its graduation rate in 2013 was only 53 percent, far below the 2012 national average of 80 percent.