By Tom Ehrich
Disasters draw crowds.
Sometimes those crowds help -- packing sandbags to deter flooding, bringing food, water and emergency relief to those battered by storms, providing medical care before official teams mobilize, and reminding victims they aren't alone.
Sometimes, however, crowds get in the way. They seem to feast on the disaster, maybe profit from it. They impose their own personal and political agendas and and claim media attention. If there is animosity in the air, the crowds amplify its noise and make resolution harder to achieve. In those times, victims wish the outsiders would just leave them alone.
My read of the Ferguson, MO, tragedy is that it's time outsiders took their leave. They aren't helping. Enflamed locals don't need firebrand oratory; they need quiet meetings with their neighbors. They don't need the world to be outraged by the obtuseness of local law enforcement; they need to negotiate and rebuild trust.
Outsiders might see this as a "poster story" for America's ongoing racial distress -- that's how I see it -- but we need to pursue our opinions elsewhere. To the residents of Ferguson, this is home. West Florissant is the street they will need to drive to work. The wounded faces are faces they will see in school and at parent-teacher meetings. For better or worse, the Ferguson Police Department will still be around once the tear gas clears.
The agonies being expressed by black citizens of Ferguson have unique content. They might sound like frustrations felt elsewhere. Outsider veterans of these struggles might think they know the ideal scenario. But this is the community of those who live there, these are their stories.
We need to stand down, leave town, turn off the klieg lights, and let Ferguson find its unique forms of healing.
I want as much as anyone to learn from this tragedy. This is my nation. It is my President who has stayed away and said too little for fear of offending conservatives by "governing while black." It is my neighbors in New York City and my son's in California who are watching from afar and wondering if racism will ever release its hold on us.
We have much to learn and much to discuss, but let's do it on our own turf. Ferguson doesn't need our opinions or political gamesmanship or militarized police. It needs space.