August 22, 2014

Why I Don’t Believe Governor Nixon’s Response to the Ferguson Crisis. ~ Robert Rabbin

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I am writing in response to your August 19th special message regarding the ongoing situation in Ferguson, MO.

I don’t believe you. Not a word.

You have received terrible advice from your advisors, from your director of communications, and from your speech writer.

Their carefully crafted message, which you sadly delivered, is terribly inadequate and unbelievable. You are, no doubt, in way over your head. For this, I do feel sorry for you, but I feel more for the citizens of Ferguson and for the citizens of the U. S.

Your message is utterly devoid of any authentic emotion; it strikes me as being some kind of legal brief you learned to write in the University of Missouri School of Law,  where you graduated. I have taught master classes in authentic public speaking for 10 years, and I am an astute observer of authenticity in public speaking. It is important, no, imperative, that authentic speakers present their messages with sincere feeling, vulnerability, and transparency.

People know, intuitively, if someone is being real or not. You, sir, are not being real. I do not believe a word of your message.

If you had left the safety of your governor’s mansion and taken up residence in the streets of Ferguson to stand with the citizens who were outraged at the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, I’d believe you. You did not, and I don’t believe you.

You say, “… for the family of Michael Brown, for all the parents who have had their sons taken from them much too soon, and for all the children dreaming of a brighter and better future, we now have a responsibility to come together and do everything we can to achieve justice for this family, peace for this community, and have the courage to address the problems that have divided us for too long. Real problems of poverty, education inequality, and race. So how do we do that? First, we must protect the people of Ferguson.”

“For all the children dreaming of a brighter and better future … “? Are you kidding me? Michael Brown was shot six times, twice in the head. Why are you not outraged at this, and saddened to tears at this? If you are, I don’t hear it in your words, I don’t feel it. This sounds like a campaign stump speech. It doesn’t sound like a man with sorrow in his heart.

“First, we must protect the citizens of Ferguson.”

From whom? From all accounts, the citizens must be protected from a militarized police force who are acting as if they are on the front lines of a war zone. These police have bullied, arrested and intimated citizens and journalists, without proper cause.

Yes, I know there have been incidents of unruly behavior. But there have been far more protests of Michael Brown’s killing and the subsequent handling of this by police that are lawful, constitutional, and peaceful. But, the military force dispatched by Police Chief Jackson is the fuel that has fanned the flames of outrage.

Did you know a 90-year-old woman, social activist, and Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, was arrested? “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was ninety,” she told The Nation as she was being led to a police van. “We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re ninety.”

Did you know that Ebony Williams, a 22-year-old pregnant woman from St. Louis was arrested?

“I’m out here standing up for what’s right. What they did to Michael Brown is not right,” Williams said. “We have to have justice. We want justice now.”

Where have you been? Where have you been when the tear gas and rubber bullets were spraying citizens of your state, and of our country?

Would Martin Luther King have hidden away as you have?

Why were you not out on the streets, arm in arm with those legally protesting the tragic killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent lack of empathy and militant over-reaction by Mayor James Knowles III and Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

You said, “The officers of the Missouri Highway Patrol, St. Louis County, St. Louis City, and other jurisdictions are united in working valiantly to protect the public, while at the same time preserving citizens’ rights to express their anger peacefully.”

This is not true. I do not believe you.

The citizens’ rights to express their anger peacefully has been met with armored cars, tear gas, arrests, rubber bullets.

You said, “As we’ve seen over the past week, it is not an easy balance to strike. And it becomes much more difficult in the dark of night, when organized and increasingly violent instigators take to the streets intent on creating chaos and lawlessness.”

Bullshit, pure and simple. Be more specific.

Which instigators? How have they organized, and how do you know their intent was to create chaos and lawlessness? It seems to me, your police force is the culprit in this.

You said, “But we will not be defeated by bricks and guns and Molotov cocktails. With the help of peaceful demonstrators, pastors and community leaders, Captain Johnson and law enforcement will not give up trying to ensure that those with peace in their hearts are not drowned out by those with senseless violence in their hands.” I do not believe a words of this. Who is the “we” you speak of? You make it seem that Ferguson has been overrun by terrorists from hell. From the citizens’ point of view, I wonder who is going to keep them safe from the police force and the violance and lawlessness with which they have operated.

You said, “Finally, once we have achieved peace in Ferguson and justice for the family of Michael Brown, we must remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been lost, mending what has been broken, and healing the wounds we have endured.” You are in over your head. I do not believe you know what you’re talking about.

These words are from political speech writers; they are not the words of a man whose heart has been ripped open by tragedy and sorrow and anger and outrage. These are not the words of a man who is intimate with poverty and racism and hopelessness and despair and hurt.

Again, I ask you: where have you been?

You said, “Last week I met with and prayed with the mother of Michael Brown. She has lost a son who she can never bring back. But what we can do is work together to ensure that Michael Brown’s death is not remembered as the tragedy that sparked a cycle of violence and distrust, but rather marks the beginning of a process of healing and reconciliation.

So I ask that we continue to stand together as we work to achieve justice for Michael Brown, restore hope and peace to the streets of Ferguson, and march together toward a future of greater opportunity and understanding for all of us.” I don’t believe you.

If you had, indeed, been with the citizens of Ferguson, marching together with them, maybe. But you have hidden behind privilege and political posturing; I do not believe you.

In my day, I have participated in demonstrations. I know they can be fearsome things for people. I was in Paris in 1969, when police and students were in pitched battles. I’ve had Molotov cocktails explode near me. I’ve been hit with batons, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know these street protests can be scary. Fear and outrage pitted against repressive force can only escalate. I know you are in over your head. You really don’t know what to do. I feel sorry for you.

At least, Gov. Nixon, start being real. Get out in the streets. Make some apologies, publically, to those journalists who were bullied and arrested, to those peaceful demonstrators with huge red marks on their bellies from rubber bullets, to Hedy Epstein and Ebony Williams.

Pull back your troops.

Get out there. Put your skin in the game. Risk something. Be a force for peace and understanding and reconciliation through your actions, not empty words. The eyes of the world are now upon you.

In the days and weeks and months ahead, you will be tried by circumstances more difficult than those of past days. What will you do? What will you say? Where are you?


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Editor: Renée Picard


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