Ferguson Seen Through the Lens of National Unity

A commentary by Bao Tong.
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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss building trust in communities following unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Dec. 1, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with law enforcement officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss building trust in communities following unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Dec. 1, 2014.

In a centralized social system, national unity is upheld as the ideal and is sought on every matter. There must be unified thinking, unified opinion, unified action and unified views.

When differences appear, this is seen as a major problem. Everyone is constantly trying to live up to expectations, and it takes a lot of energy.

In a pluralistic society, differences of opinion are the norm. Different economic interests, customs, points of view and different types of action are commonly seen.

Everyone has their own point of view, and they walk their own walk and talk their own talk. This is normal, as long as it doesn't break the law or the rules of social behavior.

All of this is regular and legal, and these differences compete with and complement each other, and must co-exist, tolerate, understand and respect each other.

U.S. tragedy

One example is the tragedy that took place in the U.S. town of Ferguson in August when a black person died during an altercation with a police officer.

There was a huge public outcry, and many people said this was the poisonous legacy of racism. They wanted the policeman to be pursued according to the law.

After three months of hearings, deliberations and interviews with witnesses, the grand jury found that the person had gotten into the police officer's car in a confrontation. There was a scuffle and he ran off, before coming back again. The entire incident lasted about a minute.

The grand jury concluded that the cop hadn't committed any crime, and no charges were brought. Once more, there was a public outcry, and many people continue to take issue with the grand jury's decision.

The issue is still highly controversial.

So what happens when there's a controversy? Of course, one must follow the legal decision of the grand jury and not charge the policeman.

Is one allowed to disagree with it? Yes, because the rights of citizens to free expression must also be protected.

These two principles aren't mutually exclusive; they are normal manifestations of a pluralistic society.

There is no error here; rather, such controversies are proof positive that differently constituted sectors of society can function at the same time.

Obama’s response

Of particular note is the response of U.S. President Barack Obama.

When the tragedy occurred, and no one yet knew what exactly had happened, many people held the view that this was a racist attack.

At that time, the president sent his officials to offer condolences to the family of the deceased, but made no comment on the guilt or innocence of the police officer, because that was in the remit of the grand jury.

The president spoke when the grand jury reached its decision, saying that he hoped people would react rationally to the verdict, although he still offered no personal opinion on the case, because it is the right of individuals in society to express their own opinions.

What does this tell us?

It shows us that the president's powers are limited in American society. The president has no power to direct or influence or interfere in the work of the grand jury.

At the same time, he mustn't use his own power to make judgments and oppress anyone's freedom of expression.

He is just the president. He's not a judge or a referee or a teacher.

Xinhua News Agency said that the decision was "a scar on the United States' history" and a human rights violation.

Of course, Xinhua has the right to make its opinions known on all kinds of world events.

But it didn't report on the evidence collected by the grand jury; neither did it make clear that the target of its criticisms was the president, public opinion or the grand jury, the grand jury system or America's pluralistic society.

Perhaps this is a throwback to a time when we opposed the United States on principle, or perhaps it's an artifact of the distortions produced by looking at things through a centrally approved lens.

The foreign ministry spokesperson (in Beijing) said these matters were the internal affairs of the United States, and that it wouldn't comment. Perhaps it understands the outside world better than Xinhua does.

A Global Times' editorial carried an enlightening headline: "Would a Chinese Court Dare to Make Such a Divisive Decision that Incites Unrest?"

This is definitely worth some thought. We could look at it from another angle, for example: Would a Chinese court dare to make a decision that wasn't in line with what our leaders thought?

The grand jury in the Ferguson case clearly didn't take the president's condolences to the family of the deceased into account when it made its decision.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.





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