There’s Only One Way Out Of Ferguson’s Desperation, And It’s Not Looting

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Ying Ma
Author, 'Chinese Girl In The Ghetto'
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      Ying Ma

      Ying Ma (馬穎) writes about China, international affairs, the free market and conservatism. She is the author of Chinese Girl in the Ghetto, a memoir about getting to know freedom from post-Mao China to inner-city Oakland, California.

      Ms. Ma is the host of China Takes Over the World, a weekly program about China’s growing economic, political and military power. The show airs on Radio Television Hong Kong, the city’s sole public broadcast station. She is also a contributor to The Wall Street Journal‘s China blog and a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free-market think tank.

      Ms. Ma has previously served as a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, a premier conservative think tank; practiced law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, a leading global law firm headquartered in New York; managed corporate communications at Sina.com, the first Mainland China-based Internet company to list on the Nasdaq Stock Market; and served on the first professional staff of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional commission established to examine the security implications of America’s economic relationship with China.

      From 2007 to 2012, Ms. Ma was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

      In 1998, Ms. Ma served on the staff of an American delegation whose leaders were appointed by former President Bill Clinton and invited by former Chinese President Jiang Zemin to visit China and discuss religious freedom. In 1996, Ms. Ma was the Bay Area Outreach Coordinator for Proposition 209, a ballot initiative that ended public racial and gender preferences in California.

      Ms Ma’s articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal Asia, the International Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Weekly Standard, FoxNews.com, Forbes.com and other publications. She has appeared on the Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, Fox News Radio, CBS Radio, The Laura Ingraham Show, The John Batchelor Show and other programs.

The streets of Ferguson, Missouri, have finally calmed after two weeks of often violent protests against the deadly shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. Now is a good time to examine the claim made by a number of politicians and pundits that “root causes,” like poverty, poor education and racism, were the real culprits for Ferguson’s rioting.

Unlike many talking heads who sympathized with the rage of the protestors in Ferguson, I grew up in the inner city. I was outraged each day by the injustices I encountered, but I did not riot, loot, vandalize or commit arson. I went to troubled public schools and lived in poverty, but I ultimately prevailed. Perhaps those who gripe about social and racial injustice and pleaded for understanding for the mayhem in Ferguson should try to see the world from the perspective of law-abiding citizens who are the real victims when poor neighborhoods turn into zones of anarchy.

When I was ten, my family and I immigrated to inner-city Oakland, California, from post-Mao Communist China. We found ourselves in a city plagued by unchecked crime, abject poverty and rampant racism.

I remember the lawlessness well. In our city, drug dealing seemed more prevalent than employment; gunshots rang at night outside my windows; and muggings took place in plain sight.

Much like the protestors in Ferguson, I did not always think highly of law enforcement, but my anger was different from theirs. Mine was directed at the police’s absence. Like the shop owners in Ferguson whose property was been damaged or destroyed in the riots, I wanted to know where the cops were when crime occurred or what their value was when they could not find or punish the perpetrators.

This was the case when my family’s house was broken into and my parents’ hard-earned savings stolen. This was the case when teenage hooligans ran up to my father’s car at a stop sign and beat him through the open window, just for laughs. This was the case when my relatives were robbed at gunpoint; and this was the case when criminals and their activities made it unsafe for me to sit on my front porch or take a stroll in my neighborhood at night. Almost always, the perpetrators shared the same skin color as Michael Brown and many Ferguson protestors who have complained about police brutality and racial profiling.

Just as in Ferguson, riots broke out in my city in the name of social or racial justice. Each time, innocent citizens and small business owners, many of whom minorities themselves, were hurt the most. Each time, shopkeepers had to clean up the shattered windows, replace the damaged or looted merchandise and bear the financial cost of lost business. Each time, the law abiding paid the price for those who resorted to violence out of rage or pure opportunism.

I remember the racism too. Much like many of the protestors of Ferguson, I felt the rage deep in my core, and the rage grew with each new humiliation. In my city, my name became “Chinaman” and “Ching Chong.” Racial epithets were doled out in large quantities toward other “Chinamen” too — who included the Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and other Asians. Teenagers crept up behind elderly Asian residents, like my grandparents, to frighten them by screaming the worst imitations of the Chinese language. Criminals conducted their version of racial profiling and targeted Asians for robbery because they believed we were more likely wear cultural jewelry and carry cash.

Yet unlike the protestors of Ferguson, I encountered racism from those who were considered by mainstream American society to be incapable of it and who, like numerous criminals, shared the same skin color as Michael Brown. For the despicable behavior from the racists in my city, there was no denunciation from national civil rights leaders, no outrage from politicians who arrived in office promising to heal racial wounds and no concern from journalists who prided themselves on their racial sensitivity.

I remember the poor education too. There were instructors who regularly left their classrooms unsupervised. There were teenagers who dropped out of school due to pregnancy, and others who could no longer continue because they were killed by gang violence. There were parents who saw their children’s schoolwork as not part of their responsibility, and students who refused to learn. But I studied, in those classes where teachers taught, and even in those classes where they did not. Unlike talking heads who blame only bad schools and bad neighborhoods for providing a bad education, I saw plenty of bad parents and bad students.

I remember the poverty too. Just like many who protested in Ferguson, I lived in it. All around me, I saw storefronts with shattered windows, bridges and tunnels splashed with graffiti, and downtown streets that smelled of urine. Upon my family’s arrival in the United States, we wore clothing purchased from Goodwill or handed down from our relatives. In the beginning, we used second-, third- or fourth-hand furniture, and my brother and I each slept on half of a bed: I slept on the mattress and he on the box springs.

But my family did not blame American society for holding us back or stacking the odds against the poor. We fought poverty the old-fashioned way — we worked. My parents worked at menial jobs, for long hours, at first earning less than minimum wage. My mother, who was once a schoolteacher in China, became a seamstress in a sweatshop in America. My father, who was once a respected senior mechanic trailed by apprentices, worked as a kitchen help on whom his employer heaped generous doses of gratuitous verbal abuse. My brother and I studied day and night instead of skipping school or hanging out “on the streets.” My family saved for home ownership rather than splurging on fancier clothing, better snacks or long vacations.