On Ferguson: Meaningless Streets


“Poverty is in the community, guns are in, drugs are in, jobs are out. Banks are bailed out without meaningful community reinvestment. Too many people have no stake in the culture.”

That’s a quote from the Rev. Jesse Jackson that appeared in a story by Chris King in the St. Louis American on Monday. Jackson may not have had the most glorious relationship with the Jewish community in days gone by, but in this case, he’s spot on.

It doesn’t take a media celebrity like the Rev. Al Sharpton riding into town to save the day when tragedies occur like the reported Ferguson police shooting that killed Michael Brown. And it certainly doesn’t take lawless anarchy as exhibited by abhorrent looters who destroyed businesses and, in a painful irony, stole jobs from local residents as a result.

What it takes, after the initial righteous anger and protests dissipate — after Sharpton has moved on to his next high-profile opportunity and we in the media have moved on to the next news story of the day – is a systematic commitment to building safe, secure communities with education, work and life opportunities for all.

Advertisement: The Grande at Chesterfield

We don’t have that commitment right now, nowhere close. Oh sure, we rise with indignation about the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police. It may be satisfying to play the Greek chorus in condemnation of a highly visible and apparently senseless shooting. But on a daily basis, we ignore the deaths, suffering and disadvantage happening all around us. We’re numb to the murder statistics in St. Louis and elsewhere in America as they pile up to the tens of thousands each year, most of them not involving police action at all.

Sharpton (whose initial public comments in St. Louis were surprisingly positive given his longtime strident persona) probably justifies his methodology as raising awareness of the plight of poor and disadvantaged youth and young adults. That’s all well and good, but in a way, his style lets us off the hook – as we cry out collectivity about the depravity of the moment, we assuage our societal guilt, and we move on.

That is simply unacceptable. The deaths and destruction that wreak personal and family havoc in our least advantaged areas make us a less moral community. We must hold ourselves to a far more stringent standard, one that reflects our highest moral aspirations, not our basest.

It’s not enough to just insist on this in words. Of course words are both necessary and powerful, but we have to be relentless in the peaceful and constructive advocacy necessary to insist on meaningful prospects and opportunity for all.

It’s a responsibility we have as Jews, as tikkun olam obligates us to work toward the betterment of life for all, not only for our own community.

It’s a responsibility we have as St. Louisans, to show that the truest notion of “community” requires caring about not just those who have enough but those who have much less or nothing at all.

It’s a responsibility we have as Americans, to demonstrate that our national dream stands for something and is not just a hollow remembrance of yesteryear.

It’s a responsibility we have as citizens of the world, so we can show that caring and civilized societies rise above winner-takes-all ugliness.

We’re proud of those Jewish leaders who stand up against poverty, hatred and injustice. We’re grateful that groups like the Anti-Defamation League and Interfaith Partnership stand up and are counted in working to build support and bridges for constructive follow up in times like these.

We should follow their examples and be collectively relentless, expecting dedication to the cause from every corner of our society. We must keep the issues in front of everyone, all the time, without pause, as we seek to create a better place, one that cares about all its constituent members, regardless of their standing.

If we are diligent, if we persevere, then we honor terrible losses like the one inflicted upon Michael Brown in Ferguson. If we’re not, then his memory will fade away with the hopes of an enlightened society.