Four months of tension and violence in Ferguson, Missouri, may have lit a fuse under 24-hour television news, but the wall-to-wall coverage is attracting a far more muted response from those who aspire to be the next American president.
Most of the top-tier 2016 candidates — from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Ted Cruz — have offered little in substantive new ideas or solutions to the red-hot debate over race, rioting and the rule of law. And that has left President Obama to have most of the policy limelight so far on issues such as criminal justice reform, equipping cops with cameras and improving policing.
And while polling shows about 70 percent of black Americans think they get unfair treatment in the criminal justice system, there’s clear evidence that a growing number of Americans — black and white — are fed up with a lack of accountability for those who have hijacked the debate through violence and thuggery.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, is one of the few 2016 aspirants to wade boldly into the debate on the side of law and order, suggesting much of the foment has been fanned by third parties who live and work far from the communities they claim to be helping.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Huckabee decried the leaders of the Ferguson protests as a “group of fashionably progressive hipsters from New York City in their designer clothes and shoes, latest iPhones in hand, carrying shopping bags, bottled water and protest signs denouncing capitalism and the ‘capitalist police’ and ‘capitalist courts.’
“I’d bet a week’s pay that there wasn’t one handmade shirt in that anti-capitalist clique that wasn’t made by the hands of underage Third World garment workers,” Mr. Huckabee said.
He suggested, if nothing else, that the protest leaders be jailed for “felony hypocrisy.”
A touch less biting in humor and irony, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has delved at some length into social causes and proposed remedies for the racial and class divide, offering several prescriptions for criminal justice reform such as lightening or eliminating criminal penalties for minor drug and other infractions.
But he too has demanded greater responsibility and accountability from within the minority communities that want change in the justice system.
“I have no intention to scold, but escaping the poverty and crime trap will require more than just criminal justice reform,” Mr. Paul said in a Time magazine essay. “Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to re-learn that not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn’t include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.”
Polls and interviews suggest that the divisions over white policeman Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of the physically belligerent but unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August have as much to do with expressions of class differences as of racial identity.
Many middle-class blacks have expressed embarrassment over the looting and arson, a point that Ben Carson, another possible Republican hopeful in 2016, made in a recent Washington Times column, in which he urged leaders to speak out not only about the police shooting but the injurious mayhem that has ensued.
“Courage from the kitchen table, the pulpit, the classroom and the streets was prevalent when I was a child. Many people had no problem publicly denouncing deleterious behavior even if it made them temporarily unpopular,” Mr. Carson wrote. “Fear of being called names or being proclaimed out of touch has paralyzed many in our inner cities, just as it has throughout the nation.”
Mr. Carson said in a separate interview with The Times that he wants to see rise out of the ashes of the Ferguson violence “a more thoughtful community which actually ask itself logical questions such as, ‘What is accomplished by listening to agitators who frequently don’t live in the neighborhood or suffer the consequences of rioting?’”
“We need to begin thinking about the many young people who suffer violence within their community — and it has nothing to do with policing — and we need to think what the young people and the community can do to change it or forever be victims,” Mr. Carson said.
Among the solutions he is urging: training local police on “multiple alternatives to deadly use of force” in confrontations like the one in Ferguson.
But polling shows even as Americans are divided on questions over police treatment of minorities, they’re mostly frustrated by a belief that the violence in Ferguson was egged on by outsiders and thugs.
A poll of St. Louis-area residents after the first round of protests found 76 percent of respondents blamed outside community organizers or organized street gangs for the violence and rioting, while 73 percent of the respondents blamed the news media for fanning tensions and violence with excessive coverage.
A national poll found most Americans already were resigned to a violent outcome regardless of whether the Ferguson officer was charged. The research commissioned by the website YouGov shows 73 percent of Americans expected violent protests if the officer was exonerated, and 23 percent expected mayhem even if the officer was charged with a crime.
Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state who is widely viewed to be the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination, held her silence for weeks after the August shooting.
When she finally spoke, she did so mostly in generalities, suggesting that in America “we are better than that.” She also lamented the “inequities that persist in our justice system,” but stopped short of offering specific policy prescriptions.
Retiring Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who ran for president in 2012 and is considering doing so again, approached the Ferguson issue by judiciously deploring the deplorable.
“Any time the life of a young person is lost, it’s a tragedy,” Mr. Perry told The Times in an interview. “But it is wrong to perpetuate tragedy with violence. I support the rule of law everywhere in America and commend law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line to protect our families and support responsible leaders who advocate for peace.”
Mr. Huckabee, who surprised many in the political world by winning the 2008 Iowa GOP presidential caucuses, and who is considering another run in two years, doesn’t plan to shy away from calling out the hypocrisy he sees in the current Ferguson debate.
“Elizabeth Vega, a major agitator on the scene in Ferguson, spent Monday night leading an anti-police rally where she fired up the crowd into chanting, ‘F– the police!’ When it was all over, she walked back to where she’d parked her car and discovered it had been stolen. Wonder who she reported that crime to. Her friendly neighborhood community organizer?” Mr. Huckabee said.
“The most absurd protesters in America are all those who demand justice while baying for mob rule, who claim to oppose the unjust targeting of the innocent while burning and looting small businesses with no connection to the case and who posture as champions of African-Americans while destroying businesses owned by African-Americans, that serve African-Americans and that employ African-Americans,” he added.
“If the governor of Missouri isn’t willing to arrest them for rioting, looting and arson, then how about at least throwing them in jail for felony hypocrisy?”
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