Buildings burning to the ground. Rioters throwing bricks into businesses and through car window shields. Gunshots fired in the crowds of protesters. Tear gas visible and realized, as TV anchors choke in their live coverage. I watched in tears as the chaos unfolded in response to the “No Indictment” decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri, for Officer Darren Wilson.
One thing that is missing from this entire situation is true leadership. Where are Governor Nixon and other elected officials? And where were the civil rights leaders?
In a national poll, 80 percent of blacks believe Michael Brown’s death raises important issues about race. An issue that has been glaring us in the face is Governor Jay Nixon’s inability to handle crisis in the Black community.
Since Brown’s death on August 9th, Governor Nixon’s responses or lack thereof have confirmed State Rep. Tommie Pierson comments, “This is an issue that he doesn’t know anything about, really. He has not lived in this community.” Blacks makes up 11.7% of Missouri’s population and 64.9% of Ferguson’s population. Albeit, there is no requirement to live in a community to represent it, Gov. Nixon has not built many bridges to alleviating concerns of many Ferguson residents.
Since 2009, Jay Nixon has been Governor of Missouri. He did not find it necessary to increase his understanding of the Black community until after Brown’s death. In September, after five years of apathy, Gov. Nixon created the Office of Community Engagement and appointed three blacks to senior positions to showcase his diversity.
Nixon served as Attorney General for 15 years, where his chief role was to uphold the state constitution and serve as the “People’s Lawyer.” When one-tenth of your population is black, you should already be engaged and connected with issues that matter to them. In 2012, he was re-elected as Governor with 92% of the Black vote. After two decades of service and receiving a huge percentage of the Black vote, he still is unable to hide his perception gap.
This is not the first time Mr. Nixon has found himself on the wrong side of an issue that affects Blacks. When he was Attorney General and running for U.S. Senate 1998, he decided to end a court-ordered desegregation program. Many prominent black Democrats supported the Republican nominee instead of him because of this decision and its affect on 13,000 Black children. He lost the election.
Mr. Nixon has been described as methodical and one that follows the process, which is commendable. However, a lesson in crisis management would teach the Governor and his staff that in moments of chaos, you have to think on your feet and lead from the front. Sadly, this case has shown Missouri citizens the priorities of their Governor and his leadership gaps. The 1998 election should serve as a reminder of the tremendous voting power Blacks hold.
You may feel the grand jury should have come back with an indictment and let the court determine Officer Wilson’s guilt or innocence. The reality is that they decided “no indictment.” Their decision does not permit Blacks to destroy businesses or cars or riot. Meaningful advancement to eradicate injustices is never made through rioting and looting. For me, the last 100 days of protesting runs deeper than this one case. It is a megaphone for the hurt, hopelessness, and despair that riddles many Black communities across the country. Rioting only magnifies our image problem.
Fifty years ago, we bled in a different way. We were fighting together for freedoms, basic civil rights versus fighting against each other. The death of Michael Brown is a tragedy because no parent should have to bury his or her child. However, I am asking that we all stop for a moment, and ask ourselves, “How did we get here? How do we move forward together?”
Ferguson is wounded and needs leadership. As residents grasp the destruction that has consumed their city, we must have all hands on deck to help them rebuild. This is the time for Conservatives to pick up the mantel, join the fight for equality, and lead from the front.
Too often we only march as a reaction to one verdict or situation, and then months later the march is history. In April, three of the six City Council seats in Ferguson will be up for election. In 2016, Gov. Nixon’s seat will be up. It is imperative that Ferguson residents, especially Blacks, register to vote, run for office, and vote for leaders who will provide direction and reflect the needs and will of the community.
Chelsi Henry, Esq., is a Florida-based attorney and business consultant. You can contact her at www.chelsiphenry.com or tweet her at: @chelsiphenry.