Charita Goshay: Ferguson is microcosm of larger frustration

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Ferguson, Missouri, doesn’t have just a race problem. It also has a math problem.

To call Ferguson a suburb is disingenuous. According to the Brookings Institution, the community’s poverty rate doubled to 22 percent from 11 percent between 2000 and 2012. Unemployment jumped to 13 percent from 5 percent between 2010 and 2012.

And voter turnout in Ferguson is a dismal 12 percent. With such numbers, you will always get the government you didn’t vote for.

Ferguson is a 69 percent minority town with a 94 percent white police force. The question is, why? Plenty of minorities are in law enforcement elsewhere.

The fire this time

In a nod to the writer James Baldwin, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson recently wrote of Ferguson that “the fire this time is about invisibility.”

Poor people are invisible. Some of those marching in Ferguson are the grandsons of men who endured Jim Crow but who found work in inner-city foundries and factories that have since been shipped overseas, if the plants have not closed altogether.

Connectedness cannot emerge from despair. It comes from financial security and the belief that you have a real stake in your community doing well.

Like most Americans, the majority of young black men, including those protesting in Ferguson, are law-abiding citizens. They’re different, however, in that they’re caught between their country’s fear and loathing of them and the resentment of peers who are being left behind.

To be a young black man in America is to be a suspect, regardless you are or what you’ve accomplished. You could be a doctor, Marine, president of the United States or, like my three brothers, all employed professionals. No matter. To the people who don’t know you, you’re almost always seen as a potential threat.

Endangered species

To be young, male and black is to be an endangered species. Black men age 18 to 24 are five times more likely to die from a shooting than any other demographic. Most of those deaths come at the hand of another young black man. Therefore, to raise a black boy without giving him the tools and the skills needed to navigate through the maze is to doom him.

Now, we know young men are wont to do foolish, heedless, even dangerous things. In the last decade, we elected — twice — someone who was arrested at least twice for drunken antics as a youth. But it is assumed that the sons of the wealthy and powerful eventually will straighten up, fly right and embark on the path set for them.

Because three white teenagers and a young adult in rural Pennsylvania were bored, a local schoolteacher nearly died after being injured by a rock tossed by one of them from a highway overpass. The argument may be made, as it often is, that because they’re young, they can be rehabilitated and should be given the benefit of the doubt.

But if a black teen isn’t a celebrity or star athlete, he doesn’t necessarily get that same benefit. No one has described the late Michael Brown’s alleged theft of cigars from a convenience store as a case of immaturity or “reckless youth.” The suspects in Pennsylvania said they stole steaks from store prior to the rock incident, but unlike Brown, they haven’t been tagged as thugs.

Not license

That said, “suspicion while black” is not a license for criminality and irresponsibility. The fact that black boys are more likely to be expelled from school for the same misbehavior as white boys is not an excuse for dropping out of school — not when so many of their forefathers couldn’t even walk into a public school without facing the threat of death.

That life isn’t fair cannot be permitted to become an excuse to shirk the responsibilities of adulthood.

If anything, it is a call to resiliency and resolve, and a challenge to live up to this immutable and divine truth: Regardless of the culture or the system under which we live, regardless of some people’s attempts to manipulate and skew how we see one another, all men are created equal.

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP.