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Crocker! What's Wrong with Missouri?

By Dan Crocker Aug 21, 2014 - 7:50 PM print

The last time I was pulled over by the police, I was drug out of my car, slammed against it, frisked and told I was lucky I hadn't gotten my head blown off. Why? I got two answers to that. I was told I “looked nervous.” I imagine I did look nervous. I was also told that they'd seen me reach for something. I had reached over to get my registration out of the glove compartment which is what I guess they meant. As my car was being searched, I said “I'm a teacher” as if that might help. It didn't. After an hour of questioning me about whether I was on drugs, had any drugs, had stolen my car, etc, etc, they finally let me go. I had done nothing after all except let my license plates expire.

In Missouri, in my hometown, almost everyone is poor and meth addiction is an epidemic. Meth-heads are nutty and can get violent. I was driving an old, beat up car. I had a few bags of dirty laundry in the backseat. I hadn't cleaned out my empty Diet Coke bottles. I hadn't shaved in a few weeks. I didn't look like and upstanding citizen. The police are stressed out. I get it. I have a lot of respect for police officers. Still, I had nightmares about it for a few weeks and even now I get overly nervous when I see a police car behind me. Yet even while it was happening, even after the officer had told me I was lucky I hadn't been shot, I remember thinking, “if I wasn't white, they might have actually shot me.”

I grew up in a small town in Missouri called Leadwood. It's an old lead-mining town than no longer has an active mine, but still has plenty of lead—our children play in it. While that's a story for a different time, let's not forget that lead exposure can cause people to be both violent and stupid. When I got older, I spent a few years in Michigan, Mississippi and finally Tennessee, but I'm back in Missouri now and likely will be for the rest of my life. There are a lot of things to love about the state, but there are a few things to despise as well. For instance, Missouri is the most racist place I've ever been. That's right. I've lived in the deep south, traveled all over, and I've yet to be to a place more racist than Missouri. I see more Dixie flags on the sides of cars in MO than I ever did in the South. I hear the N-word much more often than I did in the South and that's not just anecdotal, as this research can attest to.

Since the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO things have gotten even worse. Closet racists, for whatever reason, feel emboldened to let their hate flag fly. I've had to drop several of my old high school acquaintances from my Facebook page. It's not the first time. I had to drop some after that Duck Dynasty guy's anti-gay comments as well. But that was nothing compared to this. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of bile I started to see come across my Facebook page. I won't quote any of it here. If you've read any user comments on any news story about the Michael Brown shooting then you've surely seen examples of the kind of posts I'm talking about. To be fair, I've seen a lot of polite, progressive and well-reasoned posts as well.

It's nothing new. Missouri has a history of racism. Even in 2014 we have a thriving KKK chapter that operates in and around Leadwood, which is just a little over an hour away from Ferguson. I have no doubt that the shooting of Michael Brown was in some way racially motivated. I'm not saying that Darren Wilson purposely and consciously made it a goal to shoot an African-American. I don't know him. He might be devastated about it. I am saying that the racism here is so ingrained that there is a large section of white folks in Missouri who look at African-Americans as something less than human. You can see it play out in many of the comments from folks supporting Wilson. (It's been so bad that CNN has disabled comments on many of the articles pertaining to this case.)

Of course, it's not just folks from Missouri who are making these awful, racist comments. But Missouri is a good case study. We're a little bit Midwest and a little bit Southern. We're right in the middle of the country. We have all of the systemic problems that lead to racial tension and violence. Year after year we're the number one state for meth addiction and production. Politically we're sort of a purple state, though we've gone more red in recent years. They call us the “Heartland.” So maybe if we can figure out what is wrong with Missouri, the heart of the nation, we can figure out what is wrong with the rest of the country.

It's not all about race either. Again, I think the shooting of Michael Brown had racial undertones. I don't want to downplay that at all, but other factors likely played a part as well—and this is stuff we can see playing out all over the country. First, we live in a culture of fear. The media makes out as if we have a high chance of being raped, murdered and mugged every time we step out of the house. It's true of the news networks which have to fill 24 hours with something, and these days fear seems to sell even more than sex. It's true of our movies and television shows, and it's now true of our online news sources. The internet, the last media outlet not entirely controlled by a corporation (at least for now), has devolved into a steady stream of clickbait, sensationalist headlines and articles more about shaming than informing. More about worrying than educating. You'd think we're all in immediate danger of being knocked out by roving bands of crazed teenagers. But clicks equal money and outrage equals clicks. Police aren't immune to the fear-mongering. The only difference between them and us is that they are now equipped like a small army.

Everyone hates each other. Social media proves it. I'm not sure which came first, the hate or the internet, but it's all there now. Not a day goes by without a new controversy that we can all weigh in on and thus prove than men hate women, women hate men, gays hate straights, Republicans hate Democrats, and everyone (except me) hates Gilbert Gottfried. It goes on and on. It seems funny until you really start to think about it. Much has been made of the culture of outrage, but in the end, it's really just a culture of anger. The trolls, the constant online debates, the feeling that we have to have a strong opinion on everything or else were somehow missing out leaves us feeling empty and pissed off. In the online world of user comments it seems that just about everyone wants everyone else to “die a horrible death by ass cancer.” Much of it is fun and games—trolling and mental gymnastics. But the darker side of the comment section rears its ugly head in stories like the ones about Phil Robertson and Mike Brown.

What really scares me about many of the comments in the Mike Brown story is the glee some white people seem to take in the fact that a young man got shot. I've seen the words “thugs” and “animals” thrown around more times than I can count and each time it kills my soul a little more. Some people seem to think we're living in the Wild West and they're happy about it. It's like they are living out some macho fantasy vicariously through Wilson. No matter what the circumstances around it are, an 18 year old was shot and killed. The person who shot him is going to have his life changed forever as well. There is nothing to be happy about in any of it.

Finally, there is real stuff out there to be pissed off about, which brings me back to Missouri. Why are we the meth capital of the world? I have a theory. It goes like this: when you have no money, and no hope for a better future, then why wouldn't you take a drug that makes you feel happy for a bit? It's not like people take meth for the first time thinking that it's all going to work out great in the end. They no longer give a fuck. This goes beyond race. There aren't a lot of minorities in my hometown, but there are a lot of pissed off poor people strung out on meth. It's like this in small towns all around the country. It's not a question of working harder. It's a lot harder for a poor person to go to college (for some out and out impossible) and that even if, like me, you somehow manage it the chances of getting a job good enough to ever pay back the student loans are slim to none. I have a good job and I'll still be dead before my student loans are paid off. And I'm talking state and community colleges. No one from Leadwood, MO, dreams of going to Harvard or Yale and if they do, they keep it to themselves.

Enter the Republican Right and the Tea Party. “Look,” they say. “You know who is to blame? It's the takers (code for not-white). The 'takers' are the root of the problem. They're the reason you can't find a job. They're the reason your kids are on meth. They're the reason you can't afford to go to the doctor. They're the reason . . .” This is all bullshit of course, but give the Extreme Right credit for one thing—they've learned how to use anger for political advantage. They often do it with veiled racist claims (Reagan's “Welfare Queen” for example). And it's not like things get much better when Democrats are in control.

Everything these days gets boiled down to “Us vs Them.” The Michael Brown shooting was immediately painted as a Democrat vs. Republican story. Who pulls these strings and why? Folks who know that as long as poor people are fighting with each other their money is safe. Their power is safe. We fight, but we don't fight the right thing. We end up with a tragedy like what just happened in Ferguson. We end up with something like the aftermath now going on in Ferguson. Missourians and people across the country just keep supporting the same politicians controlled by the same billionaires and corporations. We vote against our own economic interest and say it's for reasons like Jesus and “family values” and all the other stuff we're told is being taken away from us. But I think the real reason is that the God-awful truth is too horrifying to swallow. There's no difference between us and them and absolutely no one with any real power is on the side of poor people and we're all just too stupid to realize it.

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