Will the riots in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of 18-year-old Mike Brown be a flash point for social change? Or will they be another flash in the pan soon to be extinguished and forgotten?

So let’s parse that a bit further. If the sudden eruption of active protests, the descent of countless media crews, days and days of street demonstrations both peaceful and angry by both locals and outsiders, on the streets of Ferguson Missouri have collectively inflamed a national debate after the police action resulting in the shooting death of an 18 year old young black man, is it a confrontation with racism seething beneath the surface of our society still? Or is it something deeper? And if that, then what is it about, at root?

On the surface, a lot of news reporting has covered it as racial tension erupting yet again though ever present in communities like Ferguson, emblematic of small towns and communities and inner city neighborhoods across the country. I’ve been watching, listening, reading, following and closely considering it all as it has grown over the past week or more and especially as it’s developed into a national spectacle and standoff between angry citizens and their sympathizers on one side and law enforcement and state authorities on the other. Though everyone turning up in Ferguson doesn’t neatly fall into one of those categories, especially the whole media class adding to the confluence of events devolving there by the day and especially, at night. Every night but one, since it all began.

My default mode is the question ‘What’s the truth?’ And furthermore: ‘Who did what and why? What’s happening right now as a consequence? And who is authoritative enough to answer these questions honestly?’

There are layers of answers, and it will take a while to peel them off.

Here are two articles that capture some of that complexity.

NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this for Time online, asserting that it’s not ultimately about race as much as social inequality.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)…

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor…

That’s a statement worth exploring further, as most everything he says here is. Exploring at book length, frankly, because race and class warfare keeps flaring up in these flash points before settling back into an uneasy and dysfunctional coexistence, without addressing essential causes for social breakdown and advancing remedies.

And so it continues:

The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

Exactly. My thoughts exactly a couple of years ago when a protest was organized in Chicago as an outcry against violence on the streets with homicides hitting new levels and young people killing young people and anybody caught in the crossfire of random shootings, including innocent little children. This is my town, and the politicians who have run it for so long are people in high places with power and influence, and where are they when these protests are held? Speaker after speaker takes the podium and calls out for help and resolution, community leaders deploring the violence and despair in their neighborhoods and working by all means to aid and protect the people they serve.

Church leaders across different faiths, denominations and congregations are working in coalition to build up those communities, provide services, safety, education, a way out of despair and violence. But where are the politicians?

That gets to the other article, one that addresses questions I’ve been asking. NRO’s Kevin Williamson asks ‘Who Lost the Cities?’

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”

A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.

…the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.

Ferguson was hardly a happy suburban garden spot until the shooting of Michael Brown. Ferguson is about two-thirds black, and 28 percent of those black residents live below the poverty line. The median income is well below the Missouri average, and Missouri is hardly the nation’s runaway leader in economic matters. More than 60 percent of the births in the city of St. Louis (and about 40 percent in St. Louis County) are out of wedlock.

My reporting over the past few years has taken me to Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the nearby community of East St. Louis, Ill., Philadelphia, Detroit, Stockton, San Francisco, and a great many other cities, and the Reverend Jackson is undoubtedly correct in identifying “a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression.” He neglects to point out that he is an important enabler of it.

This gets to core, root problems causing social dysfunction and the breakdown of societies basic foundation.

For years, our major cities were undermined by a confluence of four unhappy factors: 1. higher taxes; 2. defective schools; 3. crime; 4. declining economic opportunity. Together, these weighed much more heavily upon the middle class than upon the very wealthy and the very poor.

Though they weigh heavily upon the poor, and more of them are giving up on ‘the system’ they believed would take care of them, especially for the past many years.

Progressives spent a generation imposing taxes and other expenses on urban populations as though the taxpaying middle class would not relocate…They imposed policies that disincentivized stable family arrangements as though doing so would have no social cost.

And they did so while adhering to a political philosophy that holds that the state, not the family or the market, is the central actor in our lives, that the interests of private parties — be they taxpayers or businesses — can and indeed must be subordinated to the state’s interests, as though individuals and families were nothing more than gears in the great machine of politics. The philosophy of abusive eminent domain, government monopolies, and opportunistic taxation is also the philosophy of police brutality, the repression of free speech and other constitutional rights, and economic despair…When life is reduced to the terms in which it is lived in the poorest and most neglected parts of Chicago or Detroit, the welfare state is the police state. Why should we expect the agents of the government who carry guns and badges to be in general better behaved than those at the IRS or the National Labor Relations Board? We have city councils that conduct their affairs in convenient secrecy and put their own interests above those of the communities that they allege to serve, and yet we naïvely think that when that self-serving process is used to hire a police commissioner or to organize a police department, then we’ll get saints and Einsteins out of all that muck.

There’s convergence here between Williamson and Abdul-Jabbar, actually.

Our cities need economic growth and opportunity, functional education systems, and physical security.

Unless the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jeremiah Wright, mayors and governors and former Chicago South Side community organizer Barack Obama  listen to the Reverends in the inner city churches taking care of the people most in need, knowing them by name, providing through their charities for the fatherless children who need classrooms and school books, doing outreach to the angry young men who have given up looking for jobs, Ferguson will fade from the front pages without causing social change. And meanwhile, Chicago’s shootings and those in Detroit and New York and other US cities will continue to be statistics.

The president says he is watching closely. So are we.

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....