The country awaits the verdict of the grand jury of police officer Darren Wilson for shooting an unarmed black teenager. It has enflamed or at least revealed intense racial tensions in the town. And with just cause. There is no doubt that the minority communities in and around Saint Louis have been marginalized harassed and victimized by widespread police discrimination. The fear that minority communities have of law enforcement is duly heartbreaking and outrageous. And so people are justifiably outraged.
However, outrage is not enough. Perhaps one time it was. We’ve seen this outrage before and, in truth, it never went away. Once this nation was shook by rage and injustice. Men and women protested by the tens of thousands. They filled the streets. They held signs. Made speeches. They were attacked and assassinated and yet in many respects they emerged victorious. So much so that some laughably claim racism is dead or that we’re in a post racial society. We aren’t.
But the question remains, why do the marches and the protests and the speeches work anymore? Has America changed so much? Has it lost what little heart it once had?
The answer like most answers in the real world is complicated. Change has a language. Perhaps at one point the language of change may have been Justice. An appeal to fairness. But I do not see this language working any more. Look at the host of liberal leaning or minority centric causes. Which have been successful? Social justice, economic justice, has made precious little progress in the last few decades. It’s because we live in a fundamentally new age. An Information Age. As horrific and as outrageous as the story in Ferguson is, it is not a story about numbers. Data. This is what has sparked social movements more recently. At the end of the day Ferguson is just about the horrible tragedy that happened to just one family and the anger that echos in those suffering injustice, but it won’t change anything. Not by itself. The most interesting thing to come from this story are the numbers about the racial disparity on the police force, the way the city council makes it’s budget, the cost in lives and wealth for the unfair punitive and racially motivated penal system. The things to which we attach numbers.
The hard data about these things is often missing or incomplete. Until this changes, there will be no change in this country. Or rather it will change according to those with the biggest data set. That is the reality of the present age. Ferguson itself doesn’t matter and it will be quickly forgotten no matter what happens at the courthouse.