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Why Did the Left Abandon Local Politics?

Asking the Hard Questions About Ferguson

by JOHN HALLE

A lot of outrage now about Ferguson-all of it righteous and all of it legitimate.

But there are bigger questions which need to be asked and answered.

For example:

Why is it that, in a city where African American make up 67% of the populationthe police force of 53 has only three blacks?

Why are all five of its top administrative officers white?

Why as a former cop elected to serve on the Ferguson City Council?

Why, does the police chief, appointed by the mayor and ratified by the city council, turn to Fox News’s resident bigot Sean Hannity for support?

Why is it that the city council is not only majority white, but, from all appearances, represents mainly Ferguson’s white minority?

While I haven’t studied the voter rolls, as a former local official, I can speculate on why this might be so.

First, the rate of participation of African Americans in local elections is almost certainly pitifully low.  This is not, as Democratic Party operatives would have you believe, entirely or even mainly due to voter suppression efforts by Republicans.    A lot of it has to do with local machines themselves discouraging participation, failing to mount voter registration drives or get out the vote campaigns.

Their reason for not doing so, as I observed first hand in New Haven, a city which shares some similarities with Ferguson, is because it gives the constituencies which reliably support machine candidates (mainly those revolving around black churches) disproportionate influence.  They are perfectly happy when their own handpicked candidates return to office with tiny numbers of votes rather than have to deal with potentially disruptive challenges which might emerge with more participation.

A second factor has to do with what the Black Agenda Report has pegged as the black misleadership class   There is nothing in any of the previous public statements of Ferguson’s African American Mayor James Knowles III which indicate any concern with police brutality, institutional racism, or anything beyond the most bland and uncontroversial “quality of life” initiatives.  In this, he takes his cue from black misleader in chief President Barack Obama who has still, predictably, failed to make a single statement expressing concern over or even awareness of the mounting destruction.

This gets to a larger point which is that the militarization of local police forces has been proceeding for at least a decade now with virtually no opposition on a local level a process which began with the receipt of surplus military equipment made available to localities.

They, or I should say, we, were not required to accept it. And knowing how the guns, stun grenades and ammo would be deployed, there should have been unanimous opposition not only from the left but from anyone who is minimally concerned with civil liberties.

As far as I know, there was no such opposition not only in Ferguson but anywhere in the country. Based on my brief tenure as a local official, I’m pretty certain that the public safety committee hearings where the acquisition of the humvees, assault weapons and kevlar vests were discussed were almost if not entirely unattended by members of the public.  I also know from my experience that just a few calls to a local official would have resulted in, at least, some of the hard questions being asked about the wisdom of putting this gear in the hands of local police and quite possibly the rejection of some of the proffered gear.

Why did the left fail to act when it could have, and almost certainly would have mattered?

The answer is that the left has long since stopped caring about local politics even though our having obtained positions in local office could have prevented the drift towards militarized police forces and their now routine suppression of protest.

There is one point of light in this-the Kshama Sawant campaign in Seattle whose path to victory began with the most notorious instance-the federally coordinated destruction of the Occupy movement.

Let’s hope that the left has now recognized that local campaigns, far from being “electoral extravaganzas unworthy of the attention of serious activists” are the first line of defense against the imposition of what can only be called a police state, operated by and serving the the interests of the one percent.

John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes