It’s a full day of driving from Ferguson, Missouri, to Bunkerville, Nevada. As the crow flies, it’s just over 1,300 miles. But watching what’s been happening in Missouri these past few days, and comparing it to what happened in Nevada just this past April, suddenly a chasm yawns between them.
In Ferguson, a young man is killed by a cop in unclear circumstances, shot at least six times after fleeing and, according to witnesses, despite raising his hands in the air to surrender. The subsequent protest is met with militarized response. The situation escalates, violence ensues. There is looting. Members of the press are arrested. In some quarters, people insist that the young man deserved to die because he allegedly stole several dollars worth of cigars. Never mind that the footage of the alleged theft was leaked by the local PD against DOJ instructions; never mind that the cop who shot him didn’t know that Brown was a suspect at the time of their confrontation; never mind that Brown apparently only came to his attention because the cop had a problem with him walking in the street.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, Cliven Bundy, a man whom courts have repeatedly convicted of owing over a million dollars in unpaid taxes, calls for an armed insurrection against a government whose authority he refuses to recognize. Armed activists and militia members flock to his side, blockade a Federal Interstate, train their weapons on police, and proudly self-identify as “domestic terrorists.” But instead of cracking down with their stormtrooper jackboots, authorities withdraw. And the man goes free. He is praised by a Senator and lionized by the right wing media. Only after he crosses the bright-line of publicly yearning for the bygone glory days of the antebellum South and sharing his “thoughts about the negro” do some – but not all – of his supporters back off. And to this day, Cliven Bundy walks free and stands tall, pockets full and sidearm at his hip.
Waiting, tonight, for news from Ferguson, the contrasts sicken me. Of the many ironies, I cannot but think that this is one of the most hideous: last April, Bundy and his ilk curried paranoid fantasies of suffering from the militarized oppression that happens daily in this country to the African-Americans they not-so-secretly despise. Yet it’s Ferguson that burns; Bunkerville hosted a barbecue.
Cliven Bundy makes off with over a million dollars, threatens law enforcement, calls for violent uprising, and is praised as a patriot.
Michael Brown surrenders to a cop, is shot dead, and then is written off as deserving of death for allegedly stealing a pack of smokes.
It’s dark where I’m writing now, in Philadelphia. In twenty minutes, the sun will set over Ferguson. About an hour and a half after that, two time zones west, the sun will go down over Bunkerville, Nevada. What tonight will bring in Ferguson, or the night after, I do not know. I have hopes for peace, for quiet, and, ultimately, for some measure of justice. But while I wouldn’t bet on any of these things for Ferguson, I can guarantee you there’s peace and quiet tonight out there in Bunkerville, and there will be for the foreseeable future. And that fact alone says as much about the realities of American justice as what’s been happening in Ferguson and whatever is to come.
It’s the same sun setting on both places, in the same country, but they might as well be different worlds.