What Ferguson Means: The View From Abroad

Smoke fills the streets as some buildings are on fire after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014
Smoke fills the streets as some buildings are on fire after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Violent protests that erupted after a grand jury's failure to indict a white police officer for shooting to death an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, are making world headlines, with editors and reporters reflecting on the state of American justice and race relations.

Spain’s El Pais reports that the grand jury decision “confirmed the town’s worst fears and unleashed a new wave of anger,” rendering Ferguson a “ghost town under police blockade.” The newspaper also profiles the activists who have gained prominence in Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown's death Aug. 9. “Most are led by young blacks and while many didn’t know the deceased, the case has united them, ” the newspaper writes. "This is not America’s or the black community’s problem. It is a global problem of people who feel oppressed,” Tory Russell tells the Spanish newspaper.

The BBC points out that the death of Michael Brown and the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson do not stand in isolation, but were preceded by the acquittal of George Zimmerman for shooting to death Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The network warns that while the grand jury’s call already triggered widespread clashes in Ferguson, it could also “inflame racial tensions elsewhere across the country.”

Also in the U.K., The Guardian notes the dilemma faced by U.S. President Barack Obama as he urged protesters to remain calm after the verdict. “Obama’s early, and at times emotional, intervention in the national debate that followed the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 was blamed by many critics for inflaming racial tensions, and the White House had strained to avoid similar intervention in Ferguson,” the newspaper writes. “But he has also struggled to make clear that his sympathy also lies with many demonstrators in the city who feel that the police are not always on their side.”

“Officers in Ferguson are also not alone in shooting unarmed black men,” the Economist writes, looking at similar cases across the U.S. “Systemic racism is still a problem, and so-called ‘justifiable homicides” are on the rise,’ the magazine reports.

In Canada, The Globe and Mail parses the legal aspects of the grand jury decision. Criminal lawyer David Butt argues that “legal conclusions flow from microscopic dissection of very tiny slices of life: In this case, a few brief minutes of interaction between a police officer and a young man. Larger questions around the prevalence and role of racism in policing, racism in Ferguson, and racism in the United States, were not part of the jury’s work. But we can understand things quite differently if we trade the legal microscope for the social telescope, lift our eyes up from the courtroom, and scan the horizon and skies.”

Echoing comments by Konstantin Dolgov, the human rights envoy for Russia’s foreign ministry , that events in Ferguson reflect simmering U.S. tensions over racial discrimination, Russia Today on Tuesday ran an interview with Josh Pasek, an associate professor from the University of Michigan, headlined, “Racial animosity in U.S. not over.” Pasek says: “A lot of what we are seeing here is that in the environment where we now are, having a black president of the U.S., a lot of people had this sense that big stark divide that the racial animosity in America was over. And that is not the case.”

Sebastian Fischer argues in an opinion piece in Germany’s Der Spiegel that Obama’s speech in the wake of the grand jury announcement fell short. “It was a weak, tired appearance," Fischer writes. “This is not enough.” Fischer urges Obama to travel to Ferguson and give the speech of his lifetime, a speech that will direct all the outrage, anger and sadness towards fighting racism in America.

Writing for Le Monde in France, Gilles Paris describes the protests and clashes in Ferguson as evidence of a racial fracture in a town in full demographic transition. While pointing at the “disproportionate and ineffective” deployment of Ferguson’s police forces during the protests and “unimpressive measures” by the town’s authorities, Paris argues that Ferguson’s racial divide “could only widen” with the decision of the grand jury.

Also in France, Le Figaro sees the protests as the continuation of 50 years of racial riots in the U.S. sparked by altercations between police officers and members of the black community. “Since the end of segregation, the same scenario has repeated itself at steady intervals.”

In the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Allison Kaplan Sommer reflects on two arguments frequently made in the region in recent days: The excessive force with which U.S. police reacted against protesters in Ferguson is similar to how Israeli security forces address Palestinian protests. Some even blamed the U.S. influence on U.S. law enforcement for the heavy tactics in Missouri. Sommer argues that while most of these arguments lack a foundation, she does see one large similarity: “As absurd as I find this tear gas-driven solidarity, I do see one major similarity between the Israel-Hamas conflict and Ferguson, as I watch the talking heads on the U.S. media and their counterparts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem endlessly try to work out how to solve their respective problems during this long, hot summer: dangerously short-term thinking.”

“In Ferguson -- as in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank -- crises must be used as an opportunity for out-of-the-box solutions that could prevent the next explosion.” Sommer writes. “It’s not just the right time to solve big problems -- it is the only time.”

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