The death of Robin Williams had the effect of sweeping all other news out of the way yesterday, which I’m sure was a welcomed relief for Tony Stewart and the law abiding citizens of Ferguson, Missouri.
Stewart, the famously hot-headed race car driver had been the subject of intense scrutiny for his killing of another driver at a short track over the weekend. After being taken out by Stewart’s car, Kevin Ward, all of twenty years old, bolted out of his car and onto the middle of the track, determined to confront Stewart for his tactics. When next Stewart made his way around the track, instead of slowing down to avoid the lunatic in the middle of the road, Stewart appeared to accelerate, sending Ward flying and ultimately killing him. Bad news. The initial investigation by the local sheriff’s office has cleared Stewart of any wrongdoing, but many race fans suspect in their heart of hearts that Tony lashed out at the kid in a flash of rage, and gave in to his baser instincts.
Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, had been the scene of a recurring pattern of violence all too familiar to Americans. A black teenager gets killed by a police officer in a confrontation on the mean streets of some American city. The circumstances of the killing aren’t fully known, but enough details emerge that suggest that the kid was unarmed. Like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, a “peaceful” candlelight vigil erupts into mindless mayhem and destruction of property. Soon, videos surface showing baggy-pants boys with baseball caps askew on their heads happily smashing the glass fronts of sporting goods stores making off with pairs of Air-Jordans, convenience stores making off with cases of beer, and Best Buys making off with big screen TV’s. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton engage in a no holds barred race to be the first to arrive on the scene where one of them declares with not the slightest hint of remorse or irony, “There’s a Ferguson near you!”
I am not black. Therefore, I have never been the victim of racism. Consequently, any observation I may have about this sort of thing comes from my relative position of privilege. I can have a certain sympathy for the anger of a people who feel that one of their own might have been killed unjustly. But every time this happens, I watch the videos and read the descriptions of the violence and every time I ask myself, “Why aren’t those people attacking the police station, or the County Courthouse?” Isn’t their anger a result of injustice? If so, why not riot at the source of the perceived injustice? Why funnel all of your “anger” towards the destruction of businesses that had absolutely nothing to do with the killing? Why use the event of a tragedy to stock up on potato chips and tennis shoes?We constantly hear the likes of Jackson and Sharpton decrying the fact that there aren’t enough businesses in the inner city to serve the needs of poor people. We hear them lament the fact that poor blacks in the inner city have to walk miles to find a grocery store that sells fresh produce. We are told that the reason that chain stores won’t locate in the inner city is because of their latent racism. But when I watch 16 year olds crashing trash cans into store front windows and then gleefully making off with thousands of dollars of inventory to the applause of everyone on the street, I wonder why any businessman would locate any business in the Ferguson, Missouri’s of the world.