We are now, as we have always been, a nation profoundly divided by race and by violence. The first eight decades of our history, in which white men ran everything and slavery was the law of the land, continues to infect the body politic in 2014, and to play havoc with the notion of civil rights, let alone social justice. And the bitterly divisive, uncompromising brand of modern politics has done nothing to heal us.
Responding to the events in the Missouri town of Ferguson (pop. 21,000), the Pew Research Center has just released the results of its national polling about the public murder, in daylight in the middle of a road, of an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, by a white policeman. Pew reports that only 37% of whites felt that the Ferguson killing “raises important issues about race”, while 80% of blacks felt that it did. These results are nearly identical to national attitudes after the 2012 shoot-down of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, by a white vigilante in Florida.
Regarding the subsequent events in Ferguson—outbursts of looting and destruction (“no justice, no peace” was the cry in the streets) and the response of local government with a militarized police force—Pew found that, nationally, two-thirds of blacks said that the police response was extreme, while only one-third of whites agreed.
The Pew results are unmistakable: most white people are not troubled by the frustrations of black people, and do not take seriously the matter of white-on-black police brutality. The United States, 156 years after Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech on the evils of slavery, remains a house divided against itself.