Lots of things have happened in Ferguson, Missouri over the last several months. There was a police shooting and protests about that shooting. More important, there has been a showdown between community organizers and law enforcement over issues of legitimacy.
When I say that, I do not mean that the protesters no longer accept the legitimacy of the police or the state government. What I am saying is that the protests are about whether those institutions are acting in accordance with the principles that cloak them with power. These are two very different things. One is prohibited and the other is protected. And the protests have fallen into the protected speech category, as far as I know.
Not surprisingly, the local government has by and large attempted to side step this issue. It is not surprising, because they have nothing to gain in discussing it. And so you see various tactics to shift the focus from legitimacy to fear of violence to the need to provide safety, to property protection to due process and so on. Very instructive.
What will come out of this? My guess is that over time, the state institutions will take the step from blovating about safety to connecting over shared values. Sooner or later they will start talking about legitimacy. How much the current dialogue about tactics evolves into a dialogue about principles depends entirely on how persistent the community is to make it so. Not by violence. But by persistence.
Let’s see if they can generate this persistence.