The fraught relationship between African Americans, a majority in Ferguson, and the nearly all-white police force long preceded the eruption of protests.That is the context in which folks experienced the gunning down of an unarmed teenager on their streets by a police officer. I won't say it equals the atmosphere of Jim Crow. But its pretty damn close.
In interview after interview, black men and women talked about their fears of random stops while driving in the city, as well as in neighboring municipalities.
Marcus White, an acquaintance of Brown who works for a moving company, said he frequently has to spend the night in his employer’s office because he can’t find anyone to drive him home to Ferguson.
“They’ll tell me, ‘I don’t go past Goodfellow,’ ” he said, referencing one of the streets near the line that separates the county of St. Louis from the city of the same name.
Many here have their own catalogue of towns that they dare not drive through. They sketch long, circuitous routes to avoid the small areas where they feel most targeted, a concern buttressed by statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.
“More than four people in the car, they’re going to pull you over,” said Earl Lee Jr., a 41-year-old warehouse worker who lives in a nearby suburb. “Tint on your windows, they’re going to pull you over. Too early in the morning, they think you’re up to something. Too late, they think you’re up to something. When are you supposed to drive?”
Did you see what they said? Marcus White has to find someone white to drive him home at night or sleep at work to avoid getting pulled over by the cops. When is the last time you had to weigh those options? I think I can pretty safely guess never.
Until we begin to understand what it means to live like that in a country that pretends to espouse "freedom," we have zero business judging what's going on in that city today.