. . . particularly when it comes to politics, race, or other contentious issues.
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, continues to attract an inordinate amount of media attention; but what strikes me most of all is the way the two sides are talking past each other rather than to each other. It's not so much that they don't understand each other as that they begin from diametrically opposed viewpoints, so far apart that they have almost nothing in common. As a result, there's no dialog at all. Consider the following two examples.
Peter Coy, writing in Bloomberg's Businessweek, opines that there was 'Injustice in Ferguson, Long Before Michael Brown'. He takes a civil rights perspective on the issues there. Here's an excerpt.
Who’s to blame in the confrontation that led to Brown’s death has yet to be sorted out. But the ArchCity Defenders report is the clearest evidence to date that Ferguson’s justice system was discriminatory in practice, if not intent, long before the police force’s heavy-handed response to the riots that followed the fatal shooting. Harvey and his co-authors found that middle-class drivers stopped by police routinely hire lawyers who knock speeding tickets down to non-moving violations; poorer drivers, mostly black, who can’t afford lawyers, often find themselves caught in a downward spiral. They get points on their licenses, they can’t afford their fines, they’re jailed, they lose their jobs, they drive with suspended licenses and get into deeper trouble.
One can question ArchCity Defenders’ blunt claim that “defendants are incarcerated for their poverty.” It’s harder to dispute the defense attorneys’ warning that Ferguson’s practices “destroy the public’s confidence in the justice system and its component parts.”
The rioting and looting in Ferguson are plainly wrong in every respect, but they’re taking place in a society that plainly isn’t working.
There's more at the link.
On the other hand, Walter E. Williams (himself black) argues that 'Blacks Must Confront Reality'. He takes a sociological and anthropological perspective. For example:
Though racial discrimination exists, it is nowhere near the barrier it once was. The relevant question is: How much of what we see today can be explained by racial discrimination? This is an important question because if we conclude that racial discrimination is the major cause of black problems when it isn't, then effective solutions will be elusive forever.
. . .
The Census Bureau pegs the poverty rate among blacks at 28.1 percent. A statistic that one never hears about is that the poverty rate among intact married black families has been in the single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8.4 percent. Weak family structures not only spell poverty and dependency but also contribute to the social pathology seen in many black communities -- for example, violence and predatory sex. Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety-four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person.
. . .
If it is assumed that problems that have a devastating impact on black well-being are a result of racial discrimination and a "legacy of slavery" when they are not, resources spent pursuing a civil rights strategy will yield disappointing results.
Again, more at the link.
I suspect there's some truth in both articles; but from my own experience of crime and criminals (which is more extensive than most), I tend to side more with Prof. Williams than with Mr. Coy. I note, too, that as far back as 1965, the Moynihan Report (which we've encountered in these pages before) warned of precisely the consequences that Prof. Williams highlights. Its predictions have been proven by history to be grimly prescient.
In my personal judgment of any person or situation, I apply two 'acid tests'. They complement each other, in my experience, and I seldom find that one is positive while the other is negative.
The first is that actions speak louder than words. If someone's speech is honeyed and persuasive, but their actions are self-serving, violent, repellent - any other negative you care to name - then they're basically hypocrites and not worthy of trust. Their actions are a far more accurate guide to their true nature than their dissembling words.
The second is the Biblical test, found in the words of Christ in Matthew 7:15-20.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
If someone produces positive results, or outcomes, in people and situations, that's good fruit. If someone stirs up more trouble, whips feelings into a frenzy, polarizes and divides rather than unites and restores . . . bad fruit, and a bad person. I invite readers to judge the leaders who flocked to Ferguson, Missouri, by this standard. What 'fruit' did Missouri State Police Captain Ronald Johnson produce? Contrast his efforts with those of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Who produced the more positive fruit, and who the more negative?
Those who speak the truth about the crime and violence endemic in the Black community are often pilloried as racists. That's not true. It needs to be confronted head-on, as Fred Reed did in his two columns we've referenced in recent days. Walter Williams confronts it in his article. Bill Cosby confronted it in his famous 'Pound Cake' speech in 2004. I've embedded it here before, and I'll do so again for the benefit of those who may have missed it.
When I hear others complain about civil rights issues in Ferguson, or anywhere else, I first want to know more about the local community and what it's doing to address the issues identified by Prof. Williams, and Bill Cosby, and so many others. Unless and until they've been addressed, there's no point in worrying about external issues. In the words of Christ (Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20):
Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man ... Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man ...
These things can defile an entire community, not just an individual. Evil comes out of the heart, and only a change of heart - individual hearts, because there's no such thing as a collective heart - can remove it and replace it with good. We can argue until the cows come home about whether that needs to be a religious/spiritual or political/social or ethical/moral conversion, but conversion there must be. No amount of civil rights complaints or legal action or police presence can produce it. It can only come from within . . . and the refusal of civil rights activists to acknowledge that reality means that they're forever doomed to failure.