The slaughter of 20 people in El Paso, Texas, by a white nationalist inspired by President Donald Trump is just the latest example of deadly white identity terrorism during the Trump regime. And on the fifth anniversary of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, it’s good to remember that white backlash to the unrest and uprisings in Ferguson helped put Trump in the White House.
Since the Ferguson uprisings, and the violence in Baltimore eight months later after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, a lot of good things have happened. From St. Louis city and county to Houston and Phoenix, a new generation of reform prosecutors have been elected because they vowed to get tough on police misbehavior, and pledged to reform everything from cash bail to mass incarceration.
In the St. Louis region, the studied and rational recommendations of the Ferguson Commission have led to major reforms in Ferguson policing, the dismantling of many municipal courts that served as ATMs for cash-strapped tiny suburbs, and surprisingly honest (at least for St. Louis) conversations about institutional racism.
Conversations such as that were in short supply in August 2014, when I dropped by my local Shop ’n Save for a pack of smokes. I knew the middle-aged white woman at the customer service desk well enough over the years to know she had been fighting breast cancer, was glad she had insurance because of her union, and was worried about rumors of Shop ’n Save’s financial troubles.
This day, she was sputtering mad over the violent images from Ferguson. She told me she was so “disgusted” with black people that she had even stopped watching Oprah, and that she wished there was someone in this country who could “control those animals.” It was a short, occasionally heated conversation.
About the same time, Emory University professor Carol Anderson, author of “White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” wrote “… when you think of Ferguson, don’t just think of black resentment at a criminal justice system that allows a white police officer to put six bullets into an unarmed teen. Consider the economic dislocation of black America. Remember a Florida judge … transforming [Trayvon Martin] into a big, scary black guy while the grown man who stalked him with a loaded gun becomes a victim. Remember the assault on the Voting Rights Act. … Only then does Ferguson make sense. It’s about white rage.”
My Shop ’n Save acquaintance, I’m assuming, like millions of other white Americans, took her Ferguson-fueled rage to the ballot box to elect a sociopathic white nationalist grifter. After Mizzou was rocked by Black Lives Matter protests in 2015, white backlash almost bankrupted the school, with almost exclusively white freshman enrollment down 36 percent by 2017. By 2018, the university faced a $49 million budget shortfall due to the white boycott and budget cuts by an angry, rural, white, Republican state legislature.
Two years after Mike Brown, Missouri enacted a voter I.D. law aimed at suppressing the black vote while couched in the smooth language of “voting integrity.” In 2017, Missouri passed some of the nation’s loosest gun laws, guaranteeing that police would be helpless to seize assault rifles and handguns, and flooding St. Louis with a tsunami of street guns.
But the ultimate “white counter-protest,” as a study of Trump voters from the University of Leuven, in Belgium, and the University of Montreal put it in 2018, was Trump’s election. As the study’s authors put it, echoing the findings of more than a dozen other academic and demographic studies of Trump voters, “Racism — regardless of how it was measured — appears to have been the single most important motive in voting for Trump.”
And the match that lit the fuse on the explosion of violent, and often deadly, white nationalism in America today was lit at 12 noon on Aug. 9, 2014, on Canfield Drive in Ferguson by Officer Darren Wilson.