2014-08-17 – Those of us who have been around look at Ferguson, MO with dismay. We’ve seen it before. White versus black. “When will they ever learn,” as they say in the song.
I remember seeing troops encamped on the bank of the Miami River in Dayton, OH, where I grew up. A different pretext, and I don’t even remember what it was—but it was the same thing. That was 1966. Many cities saw it in those years.
Black versus white. Or is it?
Well, of course it’s black versus white. But I want to look at these eruptions of violence in another way. Let’s think of it as a clash of two warrior groups.
The police are one obvious warrior group. But who was on the other side? Not an organized group, for sure. But when cops roll into town with their riot equipment, ordinary folks go home. What’s left is the warriors group known as rioters.
There are a lot of nongovernmental warriors in the world today—well, not just today, always. They are called various names: rioters, terrorist, gangs, jihadists, militias. Young men who fight the official warriors. You name it. The warriors of the world don’t have to be named. They are just there.
The names are not important, because I’m not here today to talk about the warriors. I’m here to talk about the ordinary folk that get out of the way.
They are moms and dads and kids who just want to live their lives in peace. Sometimes the warriors get in the way of their peace.
Sometimes I feel like the ordinary folks on both sides have more in common with each other than they do with their warriors. Sometimes I feel like the warriors on both sides have more in common with each other than they do with the people who they supposedly protect.
Maybe it is a mistake to look at these conflicts as black versus white.
Okay. They are black versus white. But they are also about warriors run amok, about warriors who feed the conflict for conflict sake—because they are warriors—about ordinary folk giving their warriors permission because they just want to go on with their lives.
Maybe it’s time to roll back those permissions. On both sides. Of every conflict. You see it all around the world. Ordinary folk rally around the flag, even when the flag is doing nasty things.
Ordinary folk need to stand up. And revoke the permission.
* * *
In 1995, my family moved into the Rogers Park neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Unlike many of the neighborhoods of Chicago, Rogers Park is fairly diverse. We have blacks and whites, Mexicans, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Jamaicans, and many more.
In 1995, I was asked to come to a park council meeting—seeing that I live across the street from the park (also called Rogers Park). Neighbors on the south side of the park had a beef with a group of Mexican young men who were playing soccer in the park. The neighbors on the south side of the park said that we needed to put a stop to their games, so that they wouldn’t bring gang activity to our neighborhood, like they had to the area around another park about a mile away. They were asking the park district to tear up the soccer field and, if the park district didn’t do it, they would do it themselves.
A group of us wouldn’t have that.
At the time, the park, which is one of the larger parks on the north side of Chicago, was underutilized. And it was scarier to walk there at night than you would have liked. We had no interest in fighting gangs in our neighborhood, but we didn’t like trying to chase people away because they were Mexican.
So we went the opposite way. What if we brought more people into the park? What if we started a soccer league of kids and brought in kids and moms and dads and grandparents. And so, that is what we did.
Over the years, usage of the park has gone up. Families have picnics there. Our soccer league plays, but other soccer leagues have come to the park. So has baseball. There was already a football league, and that is still going strong.
* * *
Yeah, we have a nice community where things like this are possible. But it’s interesting what happened in Ferguson when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon brought in State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson on Thursday. Capt. Johnson backed away from the big guns approach that scared away the ordinary folks. And for a brief moment, the violence abated.
Of course, the warriors are not going to give in to all this peace-and-love shit. They are in it for the long haul. And we saw this, too. The warriors got back in control of the situation and chaos ensued.
Ordinary people need to be in it for the long haul. The warriors are counting on us getting tired and going home.
Warriors occupy the warrior space. Ordinary folk occupy the home space. That’s the way it is. For warriors, the fight is the end. For ordinary folk, the end is peace.