This was the day after the shock video of the killing of Walter Scott -- the unarmed, black South Carolina man whose death that was captured on a smartphone -- that led to a rare murder arrest of the officer who shot him. And our leaders seemed to grasp for their dictionary of cliches
It was "awfully hard to watch," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest -- a comment that I've heard or read a lot in the last 24 hours. Another one I heard -- from the mayor of North Charleston, S.C., where the shooting occurred, and from others -- was along the lines of, "I watched the video, and what I saw sickened me."
I get it. It is hard to find the right words when you watch a man -- a guy with four kids and a fiancee -- shot in the back and then handcuffed while he bleeds to death. But it would be nice if someone high up the political food chain said something like, "Things need to change in this country. We all need to try to make sure this kind of thing never happens again!"
But you may have noticed that the powers that be aren't very good at making radical changes. That needs to come from the people.
If this were a Third World banana republic, we could storm the palace gates and topple the government. And who knows...after I'm long gone, when the politicians and their votes are openly traded on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, maybe it will come to that in America, too. But in 2015, we can still vote...as long as we have a valid ID like our gun permit.
The revolution we need right now is the one at the ballot box. While voter ID laws are problematic, they aren't our democracy's biggest problem -- not by a longshot. No, the biggest problem is ourselves -- voters who sit on their rear ends on Election Day because of apathy, laziness, or the feeling that they don't have a dog in the fight.
In something maybe more than a coincidence, while the nation was still digesting the police shooting news from South Carolina, voters in Ferguson, Mo. -- where the whole dang uproar over policing started last summer -- were going to the polls. And at the end of the day, the government of Ferguson is a lot more representative of the people who are being governed.
The shooting death of Mike Brown may have been controversial and convoluted, but the gap between City Hall and the average citizen in Ferguson couldn't be greater. As the town grew increasingly black over the last generation, the mayor, the police chief, more than 90 percent of the police force, and most of city council remained white. What's important about that, though, is not as much the racial ID as the resulting policies that hurt the public -- such as the city budget relying too heavily on cops imposing fines on the poorest residents.
Last night, in an off-year election for city council seats, 29 percent of the electorate voted in Ferguson. That may not sound impressive, and on a certain level maybe it's not...but it's more than double the voter turnout (12 percent) for Ferguson's last municipal election in 2014. The result is a government that looks more like the people, as the number of black city council members increased from one to three.
Last night, I was struck by reports of how similar North Charleston sounds to Ferguson. Both cities are inner-ring suburbs have seen a surge in black population over the last 20 years or so. Both communities have mostly white police forces. But when the government is more representative, outcomes change. New mayors and city council members can make hiring minority police officers a priority and not an afterthought. They can balance the budget through property taxes instead of fining folks for loitering or open beer cans. They can buy body camera for police officers, instead of surplus armored personnel carriers.
For all the justifiable fear about too much money in politics, a million-dollar donation can be rendered worthless by informed voters who show up on Election Day. Indeed, the good electoral news out of Ferguson was tempered by the election results in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel used divide-and-conquer politics funded by hedge-fund billionaires and wealthy Republicans to ensure four more years of foul-mouthed government for the Windy City's lakeshore elites.
It doesn't have to be that way. The people of Philadelphia could learn a lesson from what happened in Ferguson. Primary election turnout here in 2011 -- for a lightly contested mayor's race and city council races -- was roughly 20 percent. This year -- with an opening for a new mayor -- there's a flood of money to tell people what to think and how to vote. But if the next government of Philadelphia isn't working for you and if you didn't vote, don't blame the unions and don't blame the billionaires from Bala.
You can only blame yourself.