Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.
Low Voter Turnout Didn't Kill Michael Brown

Low Voter Turnout Didn't Kill Michael Brown

A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by Bruce A. Dixon

It doesn't matter that low voter turnout did not kill Ferguson Missouri's Michael Brown, any more than it killed Trayvon Martin or Troy Davis or even James Byrd back in 1998 Jasper Texas.

What really matters to our black political class is not what we need but what they need. They need their perks, they need their careers, they need to constantly reaffirm and to re-legitimize their privileged status as the imaginary representatives of all the rest of us. Their answers to every question reflect what they need, and not what we need.

South Carolina representative James Clyburn was on CSPAN TV Labor Day sitting alongside establishment historian Peniel Joseph, sagely instructing audiences that while 56% of Ferguson residents turned out to vote in the 2012 presidential elections, less than 10% came out when the local mayor's job was up for grabs. This was Clyburn's and is our black political class's standard explanation for the killing and the circus of official misconduct that followed.

Congressman Clyburn is not stupid, just self-involved and self-interested like the rest of the black political class. He knows that that cities with lots of high ranking black cops and often black mayors, from New Orleans and Atlanta to Philly and Columbia SC, also savagely mistreat African Americans. Clyburn is a man with priorities, and his first priority is his status, not ours. So his answer to everything is simply “vote,” and today's glittering black political class, where he rides near the top, is the end of history, the inevitable fruit of our people's long struggle for justice.

The black establishment figures would all have us believe that low voter turnout killed Michael Brown, rather than the sharp end of a vicious police and prison state that black politicians, black Democrats have partnered with their white colleagues of both parties to build and operate.

Any problems in the lives of African Americans yet unsolved, in their opinion, are because black folks haven't voted long enough, wisely enough or in great enough numbers. For almost a generation, the only cards left in the short deck of our black political class have been appeals to racial solidarity in even numbered years, and the big vote.

Those old enough to recall the 1998 murder of James Byrd by white supremacists in Jasper Texas, who dragged him more than a mile behind a pickup truck will also recall the “nonpartisan” mailing that went out to millions of black households nationwide on the eve of the 1998 election. It was the last two years of the Clinton era, just the last two of the Obama epoch are upon us, and black disappointment had never been heavier. Clinton rode into office with a Democratic majority, promising a peace dividend, some rollback of the drug war and prison state, money for mass transit, housing, and reforms that would allow unions to organize again. Instead he delivered NAFTA, so-called welfare reform, a wave of privatizations, and vast expansions in the numbers of police, prison beds and death penalty offenses.

How did the black political class get out the vote that year? Not with new answers or even new discussions or new demands. Just with pictures. Their nationwide mailer was punctuated with the silhouette of pickup truck dragging a chain.

It's nothing new because our black political class doesn't need anything new. For them, the old stuff is working perfectly well, as long as their own careers keep rolling along.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at, and be sure to subscribe to our free weekly emails at That's



Direct download: 20140919_bd_blackpolitical_class.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:02pm EDT