- A Wordless Desire
394 Pages; Print, $14.95
On August 9, 2014, an unarmed eighteen-year-old black man named Michael Brown was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. For over two hours, this young man laid on the streets of this St. Louis suburb, body exposed to his family and the community. In the aftermath of this public display, Michael Brown’s mother, community members, and activists went to the Ferguson police department questioning the legitimacy of the shooting and the length of time his body laid in the streets. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, protest and civil unrest filled the streets-locally, nationally, and internationally. The events that followed revealed a long-standing history of a hostile relationship between law enforcement and the African American community not only in Ferguson but throughout the United States. Tim Suereth promptly wrote a detailed account of the events while offering a historical approach to race and racism in the United States in his book, Ferguson: America’s Breaking Point.
Suereth’s study is organized into forty-four chapters. Although this may seem weighty to many readers, the chapters range from two to twenty pages. The book both starts and ends with Michael Brown and places the incident as the “beginning of a renewed civil rights movement in America,” that is in many ways a by-product of “inter-racial conflict” that was “sewn a century and more ago.” The first half of the book, roughly eighteen chapters, gives a chronological review of historical events that illustrate the hostile racial climate that has existed in the United States since its inception. Somewhat surprisingly, this first section begins with a brief review of the events of the Revolutionary War to illuminate that “Rebellious rioting is as American as apple pie.” This short chapter continues by randomly mentioning various systems of slavery, from North and South America to the Middle East, as a background to examine the beginning of an African based slavery system in the New World. Although this first chapter seems a little disjointed, the remaining chapters have a clear trajectory of case studies that illustrate the hostile racial climates African Americans have experienced for almost two centuries.
Suereth’s chapters are narrative-driven. He presents to the readers a synopsis of major events, time periods, and legislation to illustrate the manner in which race and racism has manifested throughout history. From the Dred Scott Case in the antebellum period, to the race riots in the early 1900s, to the Kerner Commission of the 1960s and later incidents centered on the Rodney King case in the 1990’s, Suereth offers a concise report on race in America.
Suereth begins the second half of the book by reviewing some background information on the suburb of Ferguson. Similar to many suburbs in the United States, Ferguson was an all-white area for decades until the 1970s when blacks began to move to the region, causing white flight to further areas. “The migration subsequently forces more whites to flee to the even more distant suburbs,” and a “donut ring” forms with three concentric layers, with blacks “sandwiched” between two layers of whites. Soon, there may be nowhere to go to escape the “other race,” and “a race war may ensue.” Recognizing that Ferguson’s African American population continually grew, while the power structure of the suburb remained predominantly white, Suereth sets the stage for the events that took place in August 2014. This second half then takes an interesting new direction, with a majority of the chapters simply serving as reports of the day by day events from August 9 to August 25. With exactly seventeen days reviewed, this section reads more like a website entry or newspaper account than a narrative. This section is filled with reprints, or rather extremely long quotes of information, such as witness testimony or interviews and randomly placed personal commentary within those texts.
There are numerous flaws in the approach and execution of Suereth’s book. The...