Joseph Cotto, 8/19/2014 [Archive]

White vs. Black is Too Simple

By Joseph Cotto

The Saturday before last, Michael Brown swiped several cigars from a convenience store counter, passing much of his spoils to friend Dorian Johnson.

At first, the far older clerk was distracted. He picked up on the theft, though, and rushed to the customers' aisle where Brown and Johnson were beginning their exit. This clerk had a small frame, and Brown was over six feet tall.

In spite of that, the clerk managed to cut ahead of Brown and block the front door. With a single hand, Brown pushed him away, and the man landed against a rack of snack foods. Undeterred, the clerk pressed forward, trying to grab Brown's cigars.

Brown turned to face him, and menacingly backed the clerk away from the door. As the thieves left, the man pointed at both and followed them to the entrance.

Just minutes later, Brown and Johnson were walking in the middle of a street. A police car pulled up and ordered them to step onto the sidewalk. It is said that Officer Darren Wilson saw the cigars in Brown's hands and suspected him of robbing the store.

According to Wilson's department, the following took place: Brown refused to move off of the street. Wilson then opened his door, though Brown prevented him from completely doing so. The 18-year-old rushed Wilson; leaping inside of the vehicle where a fight ensued. At some point, Wilson's gun was fired. Brown not only struck Wilson, but reached for his pistol. Wilson eventually got a firm grip on his firearm and shot Brown, who was by this time outside of the car.

Today, Brown is revered by untold millions as a civil rights icon.

Such an odd development is explained not by Brown himself, but the context of his death. His shooting took place in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. He was black and Wilson is white. The city of about 21,000 has been subject to rapidly changing demographics. In 1990, Ferguson was almost 74 percent white. In 2010, it was roughly 67 percent black and just over 29 percent white.

Nonetheless, all but one of Ferguson's city councillors are white, along with its police chief and Republican mayor. This can be explained by abysmally low voter turnout in municipal elections. It's probably safe to say that most who vote are longtime residents whose political views lean more conservative than those of newer arrivals.

The Ferguson P.D. has 53 members, only three of whom are black. Chief Thomas Jackson, a reformer brought on in recent years, aggressively pursued workforce diversity. Despite his efforts, progress has been elusive.

No shortage of perpetually aggrieved and outraged activists have drawn the conclusion that Ferguson is trapped in a vortex of white supremacy. They claim that Brown's death is but the latest chapter, and Ferguson's state of affairs is mirrored by America as a whole. Generally speaking, these folks are more interested in racial minority politics than what led to Brown being shot.

As with George Zimmerman from early 2012 to mid-2013, Darren Wilson is the newest target of their pent-up rage. Victimhood narratives, regardless of their factuality, give otherwise shifty, malcontented people a reason for existence.

Of course, Ferguson police do stop blacks at higher rates than whites, which for some is ironclad proof of law enforcement racism. As data from St. Louis show, however, that is simply not true.

The Metropolitan Police Department's 2012 community report revealed something stark. Blacks account for 77.5 percent of all arrests; including 97.6 percent for murder, 78.6 percent for forcible rape, 91.8 percent for robbery, 84.7 percent for aggravated assault, 80 percent for burglary, 81.4 percent for auto theft, and 71.8 percent for arson.

For most who clog Ferguson's streets in protest, and a great deal of those who lend support from afar, the reality that they are opposing a mythical construct is unimportant. Those who destroyed businesses and violated the state-imposed curfew are out to cause trouble — pure and simple.

Don't rationalize their collective fury with fantasies of white oppression. Miserable people have manipulated a tragic event with the goal of spreading hatred and/or making money.

That is truly sad.


Copyright 2014 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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