Op-Ed: Ferguson is not so Far Away

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This week is the 45th anniversary of Woodstock, and America is celebrating it with swat teams surrounding peaceful protestors in Ferguson, Missouri. We have come a long way, right?

Before Woodstock, before Kent State, there were the police riots in Chicago, during the Democratic National Convention in August of 1968. Thousands of college kids gathered in Chicago to protest the administration that delivered to us a terribly unjust war in Southeast Asia.

This week, I am going to Chicago again. Yes, I know it’s the home of Market Days and Wrigley Field, and it has a reputation for keeping its streets clean. For me, though, Chicago will always be stained by the ugly memory of Mayor Daley, police brutality. It is the place 46 years ago, during the summer of 1968, where police in riot gear attacked, beat, brutalized and stole freedom away from thousands of young Americans. It has left an indelible mark upon my soul.

In 1968, under the rule of a corrupt terrorist posing as the mayor of the town, the Democratic Party held its nominating convention. It showed me how pathetic political parties can be, how wrong politicians in power are, and how police power can be abusive, antagonistic, and unconscionable. That was even two years before Kent State, when our National Guard was called on to a college campus in Ohio to slaughter four unarmed, protesting students.

For young students in the 1960’s, the images of civil rights workers from the north getting murdered in the south had already been seared into our memories. Protestors marching in the streets were met with police dogs and water hoses, gun toting sheriffs, cops in SWAT gear, and no mercy. Democracy has always had its risks.

In 1968, we had hoped to nominate an anti-war candidate, but that dream shattered on June 5, in a Los Angeles hotel when Robert F. Kennedy was murdered. Earlier, in April, Martin Luther King was slain, resulting in riots in over two dozen cities. Militarized police swarmed in to take control and save communities from burning themselves down. If you want to know what it looked like, you don’t have to watch the Emmy-nominated series CNN is running this week, called ‘The Sixties.’ You can just watch its live footage from Ferguson, Missouri instead.

Ferguson, we are learning is a small city where buffoons govern, fools rule, and lame cops carry guns, running roughshod over civil rights and liberties of decent citizens whose only crime is the color of their skin. A city that is 67 percent African American has a police force of 53, only 3 of whom are of color. Unemployment is nearly at 50 percent for young black males. Thanks to a federal program though, there is no shortage of police tanks, armor, and weaponry.

Gay journalists and publishers gathering at a convention in the Windy City this week will undoubtedly talk about our emerging freedoms and the rights we are gathering. But Chicago is only a police bullet away from Ferguson, Missouri. It is a city also infected with crime and unemployment, violence and despair. It is a place where Ferguson can happen. It is a place where it once did.

What’s happening in Ferguson is sick, made sicker by watching military weapons we built for foreign wars used on our shores, against our citizens exercising their constitutional rights. Instead of just lynching blacks, I guess we are just hanging the U.S. constitution out to dry.

Here, in South Florida, we had a dozen murders in ten days in a village called Miami Gardens. What are they, gardens to bury young kids and victims of random drive by shootings? South Beach and the American Airlines Arena are beautiful, but we live in a community mourning more the loss of LeBron James than young lives.

The dreams I had in Woodstock 45 years ago this week were not that our country would be fighting more foreign wars in 2014. I did not think we would be marching for civil rights more fearful of the police than our adversaries. This is not the world we intended.

We live in a world of communal interconnectivity, with a great big disconnect corrupting the coil. We witness chemical warfare in Syria and hear about religious genocide in Iraq. Nigeria holds a world banking convention in its capital city and yet in its countryside tribal leaders train kids to murder and abduct young girls. The world condemns, censures, and forgets. Meanwhile, someone can pay a quarter of a million dollars for a private spaceship to the stars, while a commercial plane can disappear into the sea, never to be found. What’s going on here?

The world can be so ruthless and repressive. But somewhere, a star shines, a tree grows, a child is born.  Some kid is playing Frisbee in a park, somewhere else a grandmother is winning a bingo game in a local church. Some new talent is making a debut in a Broadway show or on a major league diamond. Find the good in this world of bad. Celebrate life, it is so fertile yet fragile.

In the limited time you are here, plant your feet upon firm soil, and march to your own drummer. Question authority. Partner with freedom and democracy. Believe not people in uniforms, and enjoy a piece of bubble gum now and then. You’ll need it. If you feel a need to carry your own AK-47, watch James Bond movies on Netflix instead.


Greg Kabel

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