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Ferguson… or why the U.S. is not Mexico, nor Mexico the U.S.

26 November 2014

I was rather appalled a while back by the reaction by U.S. commentators to the news that three gangsters  “confessed” to killing the 43 normalistas with the help of the local police.  Things like “I hope they get the death penalty”.  Uh… considering Mexico hasn’t had the death penalty since 1964, and the United States is about the only place in the Americas with one not only on the books, but often enough carried out, I suppose that can be “excused” as the usual provincial thinking.   When I mentioned that such thinking was considered “barbaric” here, one gringa took me to task, “daring” me to say that to the parents of the missing (and presumably dead) students.  She was rather taken aback when I said I’d be happy to, but it would be preaching to the converted.  I pointed out that none of the families had mentioned any wish to see these particular guys harmed (imprisoned yes, but other than that, nothing),  nor was the anger (even among the victims’ families) directed at these particular gangsters, but rather at the conditions that allowed these kinds of crimes to occur.   If there is a call for vengeance, it is against not against individual trigger-men, but against those who allowed criminality to flourish for their own selfish ends.

In Ferguson, Missouri, where another murder is being protested (much more violently than here in Mexico), I notice the anger is directed NOT at the “system” that allows the abuses, but at the individual policeman who pulled the trigger.  While there is a sense that “the system” is rotten, it seems that it is more important to the people in Missouri to see the individual actor punished, and only after that, to consider what lay behind the crime.

While both here and in the United States, calls by the government for “calm” (meaning for people protesting police abuse not to unduly inconvenience the police, apparently) are rather grotesque.  While what violence has occurred here is blamed either (by the protesters) on agentes provacatuers or (by the government) on “anarchists”… either of which might be true, or both true, it was rather minimal, and both the state, and the dissidents, both claim to have had a common interest in preventing it.  Both sides were rather apologetic for what violence occurred, and are at pains to distance themselves from it… the state doing its best to justify “regrettable” actions, and the dissidents going to great lengths to claim those who were arrested were “innocent bystanders” or random scapegoats for state violence.

In the U.S., the assumption was that there would be violence, and both sides seemed to welcome it.  Those sympathizing with the protesters (myself, from afar, among them) tend to see “righteous rage” while the “law-n-order” types are almost gleeful in reading into the violence their own prejudices and preconceptions about minority people and the “left” (or what passes for the left in the U.S.).  And, in the U.S. there are pro-police demonstrations, and those who support the individual police officer.  Naturally here, no one is going to picket in favor of a couple of gangsters, but what open support was shown for police violence has been condemned by just about everyone on the grounds of bad taste, if nothing else.

While I’m aware that there are those who read the deeper meaning of entrenched racism into the “symbolic” crime in Missouri, and are fed up with it (and justifiably angry about it), the protests don’t seem to be going beyond this one “symbolic crime”.   Here, its as if the “symbolic crime” — the disappearance of the 43 normalistas — is only the platform for a discussion (a rather noisy discussion, punctuated at times by the sound of breaking windows and illuminated with molotov cocktails) of our deeper issues, and a willingness to bring up even the theories of governance.  That the systemic racism and assumptions about class in the United States is rooted in the system of governance and economic assumptions is only raised by the most “radical” of voices, and only in the most fringe of media outlets.  Here, the possibility of changing the way political parties work, or the existence of political parties, the present Constitution, and the economic system itself are all fair game for the mass media.

Whether either country will see more than some tweaks in the system is doubtful, but worth noting is that while U.S. media calls this a “failed state” for not protecting its minorities, no one would say the same of the United States, although in both countries, there is a obvious failure to meet the needs of its citizens.  That in the U.S., the anger is channeled into minor reforms (and the need for “punishment”) probably means less — not more — meaningful tweaks than we are likely to see here, where one may not enjoy the vicarious thrill of seeing the guilty punished, the groundwork for imperfect change has been laid.

One Comment leave one →
  1. old frt permalink
    26 November 2014 10:18 am

    Reasonable observations.

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