News, Uncategorized

Cohen on the history behind recent events in Ferguson, MO

BBCNewsOn 19 August, CMCI cultural historian Dr Harvey G Cohen appeared on a live televised BBC News Channel segment, commenting on recent disturbing events that have unfolded since Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, was shot dead recently with six bullets by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Cohen was asked for possible reasons for the outpouring of rage in the streets (including not just peaceful protests, but also shooting, looting and firebombing) from black Ferguson residents. Cohen referred to the extreme lack of black civic and police representation in majority-black Ferguson and the initial stonewalling of information related to the case by the Police Department, as well as the fatal 2012 shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, which returned a not guilty verdict for the gunman. He also discussed what historians have called the “revolution of rising expectations.” After the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act 50 years ago, African Americans hoped their livelihoods would improve, but during the last half century, African Americans have consistently suffered twice the unemployment and poverty rate of whites, and the gap between blacks and whites in yearly median household income ($54,000 vs. $32,000 in 2010) has not budged appreciably since the mid-1960s. Though generations of politicians have promised increased opportunity, it hasn’t happened. Such conditions may well have influenced the reaction to Brown’s tragic fate. As the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr once remarked, “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

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