Letter to the editor: On pundits and protests

I’m not here to offer any thoughts on what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, on whether or not Brown deserved to be shot or deserves justice, on whether or not Wilson was justified or monstrous. And frankly, I don’t think anyone who was not present that fateful night has any business expounding thoughts on the incident itself. There’s too much fluff going around on the airwaves right now; we don’t need any more of it.

I will rant, however, about the aftermath of last night’s announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to charge Wilson with anything. Shortly after the decision was proclaimed, fiery riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri. Whether they were provoked by police brutality or incited by misguided youngsters does not matter; the fact is that they happened. Meanwhile, in urban cores across the country, from New York and D.C. to Oakland and L.A., moderately sized and relatively peaceful protests erupted. In some of these cases, police standoffs resulted in minor amounts of violence –– for example, the Los Angeles Times reported a “shoving match” between protestors and officers, at least one detainment near City Hall and the firing of several projectiles into a crowd by police.

Thankfully, this region of the country did not descend into the bacchanalian frenzies of violence many pundits feared it would, and what violence occurred remained contained. Having said that, it’s important to address a point of view largely excluded from the social media flurries in this controversy and many others –– that of the moderates, those who care for social justice yet demand a reverence for law and order on the part of all citizens.

There’s a large segment of the media, augmented by social media, that specializes in the outrage industry, hopping from issue to issue and peddling politically correct, technocratic yet simple solutions to social evils as diverse as sexual assault, climate change, and racial injustice. Many dollars are spent on condemning all critics of these “solutions” as reactionaries, oppressors or worse. Meanwhile, and definitely worse, this sort of marginalization of dissent as heresy creates a true breed of heretics –– the reactionaries on the Right who, offended by the decadent Left’s self-righteous hubris, refuse to recognize the said social evils for the evils that they are! They proceed to deny that such issues as inequality, plutocratic corruption, and social intolerance are even problems. No feedback loop can be more self-perpetuating.

On the one side are the acolytes of fairness who will go so far as to violate that first law of civilization, order, in pursuit of what they call justice. On the other side are the patrons of stability who will ignore that first law of humanity, justice, out of pure deference to law and order. Both views grow ugly in their extremes, and neither contributes much to the actual resolution of the problem. The Left sends out the masses to march in futile protest against “The Man,” while the Right snidely sneers from its own Ivory Tower. Meanwhile the roots of the issue remain unaddressed.

In this particular case, I think the Left is at far more fault than the Right. Trial by jury was nearly turned into a kangaroo court by a media culture which, like that of the musical Chicago, favors emotional sensationalism and popular opinion more than time-tested standards of law and justice. A Manichean dichotomy of good versus evil, us versus them, energized those who demanded what they saw as justice for Michael Brown. And after the verdict was announced, coverage of the protests and marches often took a triumphalist flair of the Les Mis-like type. It must have been lost on the reporters, though, that frankly far fewer people care about perceived racial injustice now than they did in the past. A mere 300 to 400 protesters turned out in L.A. last night, a number that pales in comparison to the thousands who took to the streets in the Rodney King Riots or the hundreds of thousands who marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice” struck a far more serious and relevant chord in the hearts of the masses back in the ’60s than it does today.

This is not to say that racial issues are unimportant. Not in the slightest. The appalling inequality of opportunity between the White and Asian communities and the Latino and Black communities ought to be one of policymakers’ primary concerns today, and the unintentionally self-perpetuating decimation of the Black family through such feedback loops as irrational drug laws and property tax-funded public schools is a prime example of a system that, while not consciously racist, disproportionately disenfranchises the least privileged while the most privileged live content. The law of justice demands that, as a nation, we look for innovative solutions to address these problems from hell, not only out of a spirit of empathy for the least privileged members of our national community, but also out of a sense of pride in the true potential of our nation.

But this is a far cry from proclaiming that America is a racist country, that police across the country are waging a war on young black men and that we have made no progress from the bad old days of the Confederacy. I think I speak for many moderates when I say that the rhetoric of anti-racism is largely a guilt-inducing turnoff for the vast majority of Americans who did not pour out onto the streets last night, and that the culture of protest on college campuses is, as a mentor of mine once told me, “more fun than thinking.” As a country, we face serious issues that can only be resolved if we stand united rather than divided, thinking rather than feeling.

Perhaps President Lincoln can offer the best advice on this front: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” President Obama has a wonderful opportunity to channel the Savior of the Union today. Let’s hope he takes it.

Luke Phillips
Junior, international relations