Whatever happened to hope and change? Ferguson showed how much things had changed for the worse. Baltimore is Ferguson on more petrol.

What did we learn from Ferguson?

The talking heads and the politicians keep stressing that we should learn from our mistakes, that we should change things. But what, exactly, do they want to change? They’re vague and purposely so. Should we change the way we talk about race in America? Perhaps, but it’s become so easy, and profitable for some, and we’ve memorized the rituals and we know the symbolism. I don’t think we’ll change it any time soon.

John Kass is right.  That was last November, when activist Al Sharpton – who even some of the locals in Ferguson, Missouri wanted to keep out of their town on this occasion – made his usual declarations about racial inequality and injustice, and his usual demands for attention.

“Let the record be clear,” Sharpton, speaking of (prosecutor Robert) McCulloch, told a news conference at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. “You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our backs. We are going to continue to pursue justice.”

Justice? What about justice for (local bakery owner) Natalie Dubose, and other African-Americans who saw their businesses ruined? Where’s their justice?

I wish I could tell you we learned something from Ferguson, but I can’t. All I’ve been hearing is the old tired politics, and the old tired excuses.

Now Baltimore, which devolved in a surreal sequence of escalating violence live on American television screens Monday night. This seems like a return to decades ago in America. Is it? Or has it been festering all this time, totally unresolved? Partially unresolved? Or did a set of circumstances incite feelings to such conflagration over time?

As Monday night devolved, there was a complete absence of any mitigating force, any authority whatsoever. That’s emblematic of the social and political problems America is struggling with, seemingly in worse ways than we have in decades.

The president has spoke out a lot over his tenure about specific incidents and social, racial, political, cultural ramifications. What did he have to say about Baltimore, still smoldering and partially shut down from riots that haven’t been stopped yet?

The president waxed noble about police excesses, the aspirations of those born into poverty, and the need to create opportunities for millions of primarily minority city dwellers. But he admitted that he has nothing even resembling a plan to lift America’s minorities out of poverty when he resorted to lamenting the lack of infrastructure spending out of a recalcitrant Republican-led Congress.

It’s all political. It’s all spin.

In response to a question about the violence in Baltimore posed during a joint White House press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama delivered a perfectly anodyne and unremarkable 15 minute lecture about the lamentable state of affairs in America’s cities. There wasn’t much to object to in his response; it was a platitude-laden sermon about the school-to-prison pipeline, criminal justice reform, and excessive drug sentencing. Many leading Republicans would agree with the president’s assessment of the social ills that plague urban centers. Don’t believe me? Check The New York Times.

But the president conceded that he has no real plan to address the chronic hopelessness that bedevils cities like Baltimore when he claimed that what this moment truly called for is more infrastructure spending…

That might have made the president’s dispirited liberal base voters, many of whom reside in these hopeless urban environments, feel better, but this is about as naked an admission of powerlessness as you could get. And the president is correct to concede his impotence. The federal government has squandered much of its credibility among urban minorities…

The ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment that was narrowing to near parity before the 2007-2008 recession is again a measure of dispiriting inequality. African-American unemployment rates remain persistently higher than those of whites…

These problems predate Obama’s presidency, and they will persist long after he leaves office. The persistence of these issues also puts the lie to the notion circa 2008 that the president’s administration would put an end to systemic inequality along with halting the rise of the tides. Obama acknowledges his own powerlessness with yet another plaintive appeal to the value of roads and bridges.

What we need is a bridge over the divide of Americans.

What did we learn from Martin Luther King Jr.? Why have his speeches and letters and addresses been quoted and recalled so selectively? How about this one:

We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.


Another thing that we had to get over was the fact that the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. This was always a cry that we had to set before people that our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past. The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....