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By Steven W Thrasher

ferguson protester flag The National Guard will essentially protect the legal looting of black people – much as it was protected when Missouri became the last slave state admitted to the union. Photograph: Ed Zurga / EPA

The symptoms of structural racism stain America everywhere, but its execution is particularly perverse in places like Ferguson. It’s not just that black drivers are stopped more often for alleged crimes than white drivers, despite the Missouri attorney general’s report that white people break the law more often. It’s not that Ferguson’s police force is 94% white in a town that’s two-thirds black. It’s not even, as Jeff Smith wrote in Monday’s New York Times, that black people – many unemployed – “do more to fund local government than relatively affluent whites” by way of those stops and the subsequent fines.

The real perversion of justice by way of modern American racism is that black people in Ferguson – like black people in the greater St Louis metropolitan area and nationally – are marginalized economically and physically from day one. That is the real looting of Ferguson.

We are consistently twice as likely to be unemployed – and in and near St Louis, “47 percent of the metro area’s African-American men between ages 16 and 24 are unemployed”. Our men are more likely to be convicted and our women are more likely to be evicted. We are more likely to be victims of predatory loans. Our children are twice as likely to have asthma (even before you teargas them). Our babies are twice as likely to die before the age of one – and their mothers are three or four times more likely to die as a result of bearing them.

In America, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic,“White flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.” But that engineering was perfected in St Louis, which Al Jazeera reported “has spent enormous sums of public money to spatially reinforce human segregation patterns”.

In Ferguson this weekend, after echoing other politicians’ calls for residents to stop looting, Rev Jesse Jackson told me:

The real looting is legal looting. People don’t have their fair share of police jobs, fire jobs, accounting work, legal work. That’s looting. The looting by night – should not take place, but neither should the accepted level of legal looting. And that must stop.

The National Guard rolled in to town on Monday, and its presence will essentially protect that legal looting of black people – much as it was protected when Missouri became the last slave state admitted to the union.

But when I hear the founder of the Rainbow Coalition and the first black president of the United States call for a stop to illegal looting that “undermines … justice”, I wonder: Why do they care? Why should any black person care about the storefronts of Ferguson? Or care about the business life of a community where almost half of young men are locked out of the workforce – and where, if they get a criminal record while unemployed, they will effectively be locked out from employment forever?

It’s not like the “best” stores of Ferguson – the McDonald’s or the Walgreen’s, for instance – provide much more than minimum wage jobs, barely helpful for subsistence living. The dollar stores pedaling cheap goods and unhealthy food that no one needs aren’t much better. And it’s undeniable that the worst of Ferguson’s businesses – the many legal loan sharks who blight its streets – are actively strangling the last breaths from Ferguson’s black residents who are already on the margins.

Will looting solve any of this? No. But will bringing in the National Guard to protect the very loan sharks and fast food restaurants who are exploiting us? Hell no! And let’s face it: fear of these businesses getting destroyed is what’s bringing the troops in, not big-picture concerns about the legal looting of human lives. Racism, looting Missouri since crackers owned slaves, lit Ferguson on fire – not some looter with a firecracker.

Too often, a call for non-violence becomes a blanket excuse to do nothing and maintain the status quo. The National Guard is coming in to maintain the status quo and that is unacceptable – because black Missourians, like most African Americans, were already drowning in the status quo when Mike Brown was still alive.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.