He had a rock.
In the sweltering August heat of Ferguson, Mo., less than a stone’s throw from where Officer Darren Wilson had pumped six bullets into the body of Michael Brown Jr., I clenched the rock-tossing hand of a 19-year-old kid I had met a few hours earlier.
A few feet away, a multifarious conglomerate of long gun-wielding cops, Missouri state troopers and actual soldiers stood ready to use any means necessary to suppress any unrest. Earlier that day, this same kid described how Ferguson cops terrorized young Black men in the neighborhood where Mike Brown died. Now he was ready to start some shit.
I reminded him how he complained about “the media” describing protesters as “thugs.” I pointed to one woman in a wheelchair and said that he was putting everyone in danger, begging him not to toss the first stone. I explained how the authorities and the media would ascribe his actions to all the peaceful protesters.
“Like that shit matters,” he replied with eyes full of water and desperation. “Can’t you see? They gon’ kill us anyway.”
We stood there for a second…or a minute…or forever, with my hand around his wrist, his frustration in his palm. A millisecond before I decided to let his arm go, a brick sailed over our head, into the armed brigade. As they began marching toward us, we both bolted. I paused to put on a gas mask and spotted him through the noxious fumes. Perhaps he was only checking his surroundings but I could swear that he was staring directly at me.
Then he threw his rock.
As he disappeared into the smoke and chaos, I ran away knowing the world would ignore the hundreds of peaceful protesters and attribute this civil unrest to “thugs.”
I, on the other hand, am a reasonable man.
Nearly two years later, two Department of Justice civil rights investigations forced the Ferguson, Mo. City Council to accept a consent decree implementing new use-of-force policies, deescalation training and restructuring the municipal court system.
Darren Wilson was never brought to justice but the peaceful protests had partially worked. It was evidence that reasonable people can collectively force change.
…Or maybe it was the thugs.
Barack Obama was a reasonable man.
To be fair, a Black man with any modicum of thuggery in him would never have made it as far as Obama. Black non-conformists scare white people. And unlike George W. Bush, who was a hapless Tupperware container filled with his family’s leftover privilege, Obama didn’t have a bona fide gangster who had his back like Vice President Dick Cheney. Barack didn’t have a crew who was willing to knuck at any potential sign of buckery like senior adviser Karl “Ride-or-Lie” Rove, Donald “Da Desert Stormer” Rumsfeld, Attorney General John “the Mass Incarcerator” Ashcroft and even Condoleeza “Gangsta Boo” Rice.
And, as a reasonable man with a Democratic Party averse to tearing da club up, when it came time for Obama to appoint a Supreme Court justice in 2016, instead of engaging in a political knife-fight with the Republican Party, he instead nominated Merrick Garland, a reasonable, affable white man with a mouth and toes and a judicial record that was as moderate as it was unremarkable.
As soon as Machiavellian Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell obstructed Garland’s nomination, outraged progressives begged Obama to pull out the chopper and make a recess appointment. But Obama responded with reason, avoiding a heated court battle in the federal courts that weren’t packed with Obama appointees even though the Democratic Party controlled the Senate six of Obama’s eight years in office (Harry Reid, finally invoked the nuclear option in late 2013, giving Obama one year to appoint federal judges).
The Democratic Not-So-Ruff Ryders also refused to use the debt-ceiling fight as leverage a month after Garland’s appointment was tossed into political purgatory. It wasn’t that the Democratic Party was afraid to go toe-to-toe with Republican obstructionists. Democrats pride themselves on governing with a sense of compassionate practicality. And, like most practical, compassionate Americans, they avoid conflict, as opposed to the conservative Killmongers on the other side of the aisle who long for the opportunity to take the throne on Challenge Day.
But that challenge shit is over. Trump’s the king now.
And now, in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s untimely passing, Democratic historical revisionists are pointing to the hypocrisy of the GOP after it burgled Garland’s Supreme Court seat. What the GOP did to Merrick Garland is shameful. It was wrong. Anyone who purports to believe in the Constitution should regret doing it (as if the GOP is capable of feeling shame, regret or…well, anything). But progressives have conveniently left out one part in their recounting of the Democratic fight for Garland’s nomination:
They didn’t fight!
Instead of kicking in the door, waving the four-four, the Democrats acquiesced to Republican bullying by nominating a wet dishrag of a moderate whom they hoped conservatives would deem acceptable. Then, they didn’t use any means necessary to get him confirmed. They didn’t use a single mean! And perhaps the Democrats’ biggest misstep in the Garland fiasco was when the party concluded: “Why fight when Hillary is gonna win anyway?”
Well, that worked out fine, didn’t it?
The Democratic Party’s lack of intestinal fortitude on this issue will reverberate for generations. But this is not just about the Supreme Court. It is about the party’s lack of ambition as a rider for their base who elected them…
The Democrats’ incessant deference to tradition and political practicality affects Black people more than it affects white people. White Georgians’ votes weren’t disproportionately tossed in the trash during the 2018 midterms because white voting rights weren’t dismantled by Shelby v. Holder. White people weren’t the ones being disproportionately killed by police when Cory Booker introduced a police reform bill five years before Breonna Taylor, George Floyd or Jacob Blake wound up on the end of a police gun barrel.
White people weren’t being targeted by the war on drugs when the Democratic Party leaned on Black lawmakers to sign the 1994 crime bill. They weren’t the victims of sentencing disparities when they conceded to GOP senators who refused to make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. They could’ve ended the filibuster in 2009—when they had control of the House, Senate and the presidency—instead of letting GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act erase any notion of a public option. African Americans are the ones who are most impacted by that decision because the states that refuse the Medicare expansion are disproportionately Black. Former Rep. John Conyers pushed for a bill to study reparations every year from 1989 until the day he died. But the party never made it a priority because white families already have 10 times the wealth of Black families.
Can you imagine if the Democratic Party did as much for its Black constituency as the Republican Party does for its white base?
Sure, we have the Squad (Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, not the Flipmode Squad). But aside from Maxine Waters, no one is willing to throw hands with the GOP. The Democratic Party desperately needs a few unapologetic junior mafias like the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus who are willing to tell Mitch McConnell obstructionists and fraidy-cat Amy Klobuchar moderates to “move, bih, get out the way!”
Instead, they’re moving mealy-mouthed moderates to the front of the line like Amy “Fraidy Cat” Klobuchar and Pete “Swaggerless Obama” Buttigieg. How are these mayonnaisian motherfuckers gonna fight for Black people when they’ve spent their entire careers avoiding any confrontation with the Boogey monsters of racism? That’s why we need some real Gs who squeeze first and ask questions last. (Politically speaking, that’s how most of these so-called “progressives” pass.)
The Democratic Party needs some thugs.
Someone had a rock.
There’s a story about an idealistic young guy who saw all the stories about Chicago and figured he could be the one to change things. So he moved there with a few of his homeboys, who were also activists. They tried to meet with the mayor, the city council and other power brokers to explain to them that the economic conditions caused all of the crime, but no one would listen to them
Distraught, the guy wondered to himself: “What if I got all of the thugs together?”
So this crazy dude scheduled a meeting with all of the gang leaders. But when they showed up, one of the guy’s homeboys said, “I don’t know why he wants to work with all these thugs.” The thugs overheard it and left.
But the guy wasn’t done.
He scheduled another meeting with the thugs, and when they showed up, he apologized. He convinced the gangstas to start working in their community, and they did! The guy eventually organized a march and the gangsters walked alongside him. When the white people saw this, they got so mad that they threw rocks and bottles. One even hit the leader of the march in the head but the thugs didn’t even retaliate. When Chicago’s mayor saw how this guy who wasn’t even from Chicago had gotten the thugs on his side, he agreed to meet with the leader. Then the real estate board met with him and they all agreed to an economic agenda.
They were lying, though.
They never created an economic plan. They never fixed the city’s Black housing crisis. They really just wanted to get this crazy dude out of town. And, as soon as the guy left, Chicago’s mayor created a gang task force that eventually arrested all of the gang leaders on trumped-up charges.
But something weird happened.
He couldn’t stop the thugs!
Instead of waiting on the city, the Black Panther thugs started a free breakfast program. They convinced doctors and nurses to provide free healthcare. The gangs joined in with the Panthers and called a truce. They formed a political organization that funded candidates. They convinced businesses in Black neighborhoods to hire Black people. The Vice Lords got hundreds of thousands of dollars and built youth centers all over the city. The Rockefeller Foundation gave them a $275,000 grant. The U.S. Department of Economic Opportunity gave the Blackstone Rangers $957,000 to set up a youth project.
But then someone killed the man who started it all. Then the cops, along with the FBI, killed the Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton. Then all of the gang leaders ended up in jail, many of them on trumped-up charges. The U.S. even reportedly framed one of the leaders for a terrorist plot.
But if you ever ate free breakfast at school, remember, the thugs did that. If you ever went to a free clinic in a poor neighborhood, thugs started that. If you wonder why the Chicago housing projects discrimination was dismantled, thugs did that.
And if you’ve ever wondered who Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about when he wrote:
I am thinking now of some teenage boys in Chicago. They have nicknames like “Tex,” and “Pueblo,” and “Goat” and “Teddy”…I met these boys and heard their stories in discussions we had on some long, cold nights at the slum apartment I rented in the West Side ghetto of Chicago.
Well, there was no “Pueblo.”
He was talking about some teenagers he met in 1966 during his Chicago campaign who helped him fight for economic change. Some of them would become the most powerful men in the country. Kenneth “Goat” Parks was once the president of a group founded by Edwin “Pepalo” Perry that is now known to some as the Almighty Vice Lord Nation.
Even Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most peaceful human beings who ever walked the face of the Earth knew that if he wanted to get shit done:
You need a few thugs.