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The Tragedy in Ferguson Is Not Only About Racism

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Message Sam Amer

By now, everybody knows that the population of Ferguson, Missouri is mostly black and its police force is almost exclusively white. Yet, when a white policeman killed an unarmed black youth, the strong and unrelenting violence that resulted, was far more than usual. It is the worst civil disobedience riots seen in the last 70 years. Unusually, the riots also included many white protesters. Of course, race played a major role; the election of a black president has not materially changed the realities that blacks face in their daily lives. Economic and other factors surely played a role as well. Is it a coincidence that the economic downturn that we are still suffering from was especially hard on blacks? [tag]

Ferguson Day 6%2C Picture 54
Ferguson Day 6%2C Picture 54
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Loavesofbread, Author: Loavesofbread)
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Today, the United States is a different country from what it was 70 years ago. Nowadays, the American people, both blacks and whites, feel more neglected by and disconnected from their government. They feel powerless. Most are living in deepening poverty and the middle class has almost disappeared.

Besides race, the drivers of civil unrest in Ferguson are poverty, unemployment, helplessness and lack of opportunity. Michael Brown's crime was that he stole a box of cigars. Most of the riots that erupted following his murder involved looting of convenience stores for mostly food items. The other black man, who was also killed near Ferguson a few days later, stole a couple of donuts. There were no attacks on stores selling luxury items. It is an indication of the rioters' priorities: they are poor and looking for food. More broadly, the riots in Ferguson could be viewed as an extension of the Wall Street sit-ins. The rich have all the power and the poor have almost nothing.

The rich who hold power in the United States are increasingly characterized by extreme lack of empathy for their poorer compatriots. They feel like the kings of yore, entitled to their extreme wealth. There is no other way to explain their opposition to the entitlement programs, the expansion of health insurance, the regulation of the financial markets, and increasing taxes on the very wealthy. The result is that the poor are getting poorer and feeling more helpless and hopeless. That means that the environment is becoming less safe for everyone. The baby boomers, who are now retiring, will soon bestow their wealth to their children. The already stratified economy will be maintained by the new generation.

What needs to be done is quite clear. The power structure in the United States must be changed. Rather than a bloody revolution, we need to elect a new Congress and a President that more truly represent the American people and will attend to their needs. For the average American, it does not pay anymore to practice the sham democracy that we now have. If we continue on our merry ways, the new Congress will not differ from the one we have now. The incumbency rate is close to 90%. It is no wonder that people don't care to vote anymore.

Irrespective of political affiliation, we need to elect a President and a solid majority in Congress that will 1) institute a graduated income tax of up to 70-80% on those earning over one million dollars a year, 2) support a graduated estate tax for up to 90%, 3) support a tax on the sale or exchange of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments, 4) support an inflation-proof national minimum wage, 5) support a single-payer healthcare system, 6) establish more equalized access to the educational system, and 7) support legislation that would completely eliminate the private funding of elections.

It is unfortunate that the American people are not educated enough in their political system and its role in their everyday lives. Before voting for any candidate, the electorate must think seriously about whom they are voting for. They should ask the preceding questions of all candidates and elect only those who answer in the positive. If they succumb to the money-sponsored election ads, this country will continue on its downward path to third world status. We shall continue to have unrest, social immobility and insurmountable inequality. The rich will live behind their well-fortified castles while the rest scramble for the crumbs. Electing a more representative Congress and President will not solve our problems overnight but least it would put us on the right path.

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Retired Pharmacologist with two masters and a Ph.D.
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