Dr. Jelani Cobb, a University of Connecticut Associate Professor of History and Director of the school’s Institute for African American Studies, is by all accounts an exceptional educator and author, But do his recent writings in the New Yorker magazine and his comments on ABC’s “The Week with George Stephanoupolis” also indicate that he is an apologist for the arson, mayhem and violence in Ferguson, Missouri last week? It’s certainly up for discussion.
In the New Yorker piece, Cobb absolutely nails the mistrust African Americans–particularly young men–have of law enforcement. It’s there. It’s real. And it must be dealt with.
However, Cobb wanders into dangerous territory when he seemingly blames everyone except the masked rioters who burned and looted their own neighborhood’s businesses for that night’s mayhem. Cobb blames the county prosecutor’s ridiculous decision to announce at night the grand jury’s decision not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson into the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, at night. It was a stupid decision but it’s not an excuse for the violence.
He blames riot-control police and national guardsmen for where they were deployed. “Despite the sizable police presence, few officers were positioned on the stretch of West Florissant Avenue where Brown was killed. The result was that damage to the area around the police station was sporadic and short-lived, but Brown’s neighborhood burned. This was either bad strategy or further confirmation of the unimportance of that community in the eyes of Ferguson’s authorities,” he writes.
He blames Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for declaring a preemptive state of emergency. Saying it “was roughly akin to declaring it daytime at 3 A.M. because the sun will rise eventually.” So it’s not the opportunistic looters who are to blame for the destruction of those neighborhoods, it was racist law enforcement deployment and an attempt to prepare? Wow.
Is there anyone who doesn’t believe there needs to be a larger discussion about race as it pertains to law enforcement in this country? I’m sure there are but I can’t take them seriously.
Cobb’s basic premise is that the rioting was predictable and even inevitable. Unfortunately, he’s right. But he should start the conversation with a strong and unequivocal condemnation of the breaking of windows in order to carry out a SONY 54 inch, 4K Ultra HD TV under the guise of demanding justice.
He almost got there. On “This Week,” he said, “Now, I’m not going to actually defend attacking someone’s business.” (Gee, thanks for that.) But then he added,”…not everything is even. There’s not a kind of even distribution of concern here. People became very upset about the prospect of property damage in Ferguson. But the people in the community were saying we are concerned about not only Michael Brown’s death but the context in which his death seemed almost if not predictable then not shocking…And so in that regard, we can’t make a property offense be equivalent of a person losing their life. But these two things are not equivalent.” In other words, don’t be so upset about the looting and destruction because, hey, a life was lost.
Cobb’s salient and on-point observations are overshadowed by his apparent willingness to excuse the violence of Ferguson.