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Ferguson Follies

Nov 262014
 By , November 26, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way back from the Ferguson courthouse…

I stood on the side of the road, across the street from the courthouse, both concerned and entertained by the gathering crowd.  On one side of the steps leading up to the courthouse was a vendor who had set up his cart in order to hawk ‘i-witness ice cream’ to the anxious folks milling about.  He only sold one flavor of ice cream, that being vanilla/chocolate twist.  If a customer wanted it straight up, they could get a “Wilson Waffle Cone.”  If a person got it in a cup, they could get fresh blueberries on top.  Vanilla…chocolate…and blueberries.  It seemed like a nice mix, but some were murmuring about the blueberries being a little bitter.

FergusonAt the appointed hour, twice delayed, the St. Louis County Prosecutor descended the steps from the court house to a bank of microphones surrounding a wobbly podium.  He carried a thick stack of papers in a folder that flew out of his hands as he tripped over one of the cords.  The stack of papers went flying over the lip of the podium and landed in a disheveled pile on the sidewalk.  Someone must have been smoking nearby because their dropped cigarette managed to set the papers on fire.  Suddenly, out of the crowd, a familiar man named Eric stepped forward with a small, one-gallon container of gasoline and began pouring it onto the small flame.  The results were not surprising or unexpected.  Whoosh!

Once the flames had been dowsed, the prosecutor read from a backup copy of the grand jury decision.  As expected, there was a mixture of great satisfaction and pronounced disappointment.  Groups were staggering off to either hit the late night pancake special at IHOP or to burn, pillage, and destroy. As for me, I stayed in my spot on the sidewalk and pondered the unfolding drama.

As the night wore on, and the number of media vans racing down the street towards concentrations of protesters and fires outnumbered the number of patrol cars trying to stop them, it dawned on me that white people often protest for equally important and legitimate reasons.  I pulled out my phone and looked up major causes for white protests:

  • Black Friday Brawls (2013) – After narrowly escaping being trampled to death at the store entrance, two Caucasian women beat on each other over the last flat screen.
  • Pumpkins (2014) – The annual pumpkin festival in New Hampshire ended with tear gas, car flips, and fires.
  • Their sports team WINS (2012) – Kentucky fans riot after beating Louisville in the Final Four.
  • Their sports team LOSES (2001) – Purdue students cause pandemonium after loss to Notre Dame.
  • Straw Hats (1922) – Young people snatch men’s straw hats from the heads of pedestrians if the hats were worn after the traditional Labor Day hat switch day.
  • Surfing (2013) – Two dozen surfers arrested for rioting after a major pro surf contest in Huntington Beach, California.  Dude!
  • Spring Break wasn’t fun enough (1969) – Unable to afford a trip to Florida for Spring Break, the student body president of NDSU entreats the farmers of Zap, North Dakota to allow thousands of college students to descend upon their farms and town for a Woodstock-ish celebration.  The beer ran out quickly at the local bars, the temperatures fell below freezing, and porta-potties had not been provided.  Riots ensued, followed by the National Guard paying Zap a visit in the middle of the night.

Like the good citizens of Ferguson, rioting for legitimate reasons, like surfing, straw hats, and attacking a police officer after robbing a store for cigars, is so very legitimate.  Right?

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Michael Larson is newly minted Texan. He is a retired teacher, current university librarian, and a future 'great American' author.

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