WASHINGTON – As the first African-American attorney general, Eric Holder holds a unique status in American life. Last week he visited some of the people who had a role in strife-torn Ferguson, Mo.
His meetings had a dual purpose. The first was to calm the tensions of black witnesses, and perhaps some participants, to the rioting and looting that ripped up the community for a week. His visits happily coincided with the sharp reduction of violence.
The second was to put a political stamp on the week of black outrage – a label that Democrats hope will invigorate the party though this year’s midterm elections and save their majority in the Senate.
It is no longer a slander to accuse an attorney general of political and social bias after the highly partisan behavior of attorneys general under Republican President George W. Bush, particularly that of Alberto Gonzales. Just as under Bush, political tilt comes with the territory under President Obama.
While in Ferguson, Holder made sure his minority listeners knew who the real victims are, telling a story about how as a young black man he was hassled by police in New Jersey.
The victims of the mayhem that followed the death of unarmed black Michael Brown, 19, by a white police officer were blacks habitually victimized by brutal white cops, Holder suggested.
With that message, Holder decided that the price of the chaos these days needs to be the rule of law – the notion under English common law, which we inherited, that citizens voluntarily comply, or obey the law on their own. That protests must be peaceable.
There is no record that Holder met with two other classes of victims of Ferguson violence, including the half-dozen police officers hurt in the riots. And just as important, there is no record that Holder met with businesspersons whose establishments were ransacked, burned and looted by the rioters. Many of the owners of these places are members of another minority – Asian-Americans.
It will take a long time to eradicate the lesson Holder, Al Sharpton and others taught in Ferguson. It will persist long after the tragedy of Michael Brown fades: That after the peaceable civil rights struggles of the late 1960s, there is a new legitimacy, or at least forgiveness, for collective savagery in the streets.
The passions of the mob have been joined by CNN, which is campaigning to force Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to replace Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, as the lead investigator into the street shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson. Missouri State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed has collected 70,000 signatures on an online petition that McCullough remove himself. The grounds are that McCulloch’s family has been too close to the police.
The reason that Ferguson exploded, and other poor communities can detonate, is that both parties in power here have forgotten the black families that have been ditched by the global economy. While black unemployment – which is more than double that of whites – persisted under Bush, the blame must fall now on President Obama. Call it benign neglect.
Even in 2009 and 2010 when the Democrats ruled both houses of Congress and the White House, Democrats did absolutely nothing, and proposed nothing to address the long-standing social issues festering in the ghettos.
Republicans, who now run the House and who may win the Senate in November, are even more indifferent to the needs of urban America – which now includes many first-ring suburbs like Ferguson.
Nothing less than an effort like Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society will solve these deep social problems. But where’s the leadership for that?