Why the Outrage After Michael Brown's Death Was Different From the Outrage After Eric Garner's Death

Danny Wicentowski, Riverfront Times
Delmar Boulevard runs east-west across St. Louis. Most people who live south of Delmar are white and almost everybody who lives north of Delmar is black. There are no Republicans on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, so the political divide, and the fight for resources, is racial. Votes often split north/south, black/white.

This divide cuts across America, but in St. Louis there are no pretenses.

See Also: For more on Michael Brown's death and the unrest in Ferguson, follow the coverage at our sister paper in St. Louis, the Riverfront Times.

The divide is there for all to see. The tension is not deep and underlying but simmering, slowly and always heating to an unknown boiling point.

See also: 'I Was Choked by the NYPD': New York's Chokehold Problem Isn't Going Away

During a town hall meeting on the north side in 2011, a then-state representative named Jamilah Nasheed said to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay: "We have a major issue in the city of St. Louis with race relations, and I would like for you to touch on that. What can we do, as elected officials, community organizations as a whole, to try to bridge that racial gap here in the city?"

And the mayor answered, "One of the things I found in the city of St. Louis, you know, one of the things about the city of St. Louis is it is one of the most--on a block-by-block basis--one of the most integrated cities in America."

Many in the crowd, which was nearly all black, laughed. Even when a racial divide is as clear and objective as the votes on a bill, there are people who deny its existence. That makes the tension worse.

The tension has radiated outward over the years. People moved to the suburbs. First white people, then, more recently, black people. Which explains why a place like Ferguson, Missouri, once majority white, is now two-thirds black, yet has three black officers out of 53 and one black city council member out of six and one black school board member out of seven.

And that is where St. Louis County stood when Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday, August 9.

The world has seen on live television what followed. The protests began within hours. Police showed up in riot gear. The looting began on Sunday night. Then came the tanks, the sniper rifles aimed at civilians, the tear gas, the flash-bang grenades, the rubber bullets, and the rows of cops marching with guns drawn. The protests got louder and the police cracked down even more. The scene has been outrageous and chaotic and the authorities appear to have no longterm plan other than a continued showing of pure force.

St. Louis County officials, it is now clear, were unprepared to handle the outrage. Perhaps they believed such outrage was a relic of a past America. They may have believed this because three weeks before a Ferguson police officer killed Brown, New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner in Staten Island. The world saw the whole thing on video: Panteleo wrapping his arm around Garner's neck and Garner repeating "I can't breathe" before falling unconscious. The public's reaction was mild.

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