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Ferguson, Common Sense & Government Mistrust

Posted by Mark Ranzenberger on
Mark Ranzenberger

We call the ability to fill in the blanks and decide if something is true or not “common sense.” People reach conclusions based on incomplete information all the time. Most of the time, decisions based on common sense are good conclusions.

Common sense is built on experience. If something seems to match our experience, common sense tells us how to fill in the blanks of what we don’t know. Common sense then tells us whether or not something is true.

The story of the killing of Michael Brown originally spread rapidly through social media. It was believed and spread because it has the ring of truth to it.

Most people retweeting the story didn’t know Michael Brown. They didn’t know Darren Wilson. They weren’t on the street in Ferguson, Missouri. But the story rang true, so they shared it.

That’s the real story: To a lot of Americans, it simply sounds true that a brutal white cop would kill a young black man without any real justification. It seems true to a lot of Americans that government-paid thugs keep Americans like them in line by harassing, beating, imprisoning and occasionally killing people like them.

In his announcement Monday that Wilson would not be indicted, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch seemed to want to indict social media, particularly Twitter. But social media can’t be controlled by those in power – just ask the former governments of the Arab Spring.

Michael Brown and Darren Wilson became symbols, characters in a larger play that reveals once again Americans’ profound distrust and fear of government. This fear isn’t just a black thing. It isn’t just an urban thing. Ask any rural or suburban gun owner if they really trust the government. We know what the answer is.

Certainly, propagandists and manipulators from all sides will stoke this distrust for their own ends. And only a fool would trust government blindly. But when the default, common-sense position of many Americans from all across the political and racial spectrum is that their government is out to harass them and hurt them, perhaps they’re onto something.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.


Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

Each week, he's joined live in the studio by journalists, academics, and experts. Along with viewers at home, they tackle the local, national, and global issues that matter most.