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Six Bullets

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Six bullets penetrated Michael Brown. Countless more have entered the American political body.

The litany of nefarious or at least stupid responses by local police and Missouri state authorities does not even begin to encapsulate what is wrong. John Oliver may have stated it best for popular consumption. But for policymakers, lawmakers, judges, police officers, governors, attorneys general and a sitting president, what ought we do?

In that regard, the Democratic Party's mantra about inequality begins the debate, but alas, it does not end it. Even if all African Americans and Hispanics and Native Americans and, and... were entirely on an equal range of socioeconomic opportunity, there would still be the structure of power.

I was raised in a state, Minnesota, at a time before any, save for Native Americans, was a minority. In that remote era, power and demographics coincided in that state in that period. In Ferguson, Missouri, and countless other places, that formula is woefully out of date.

Instead, Caucasians dominate police forces and city halls and the judicial system. The people subjected to "the system" are black, Hispanic, Native American -- you name it.

When I was in the Army many years ago, there was no discrimination when the Viet Cong attacked. Black, Native American, Asian, Caucasian -- all were the same. I wrongfully thought that, after the Civil Rights Act, MLK's and Bobby Kennedy's deaths and Vietnam, we had irrevocably crossed the ground between a racially divided and homogenous society. I was very, very wrong.

Trayvon Martin was a seminal case. Now Michael Brown. But there are so, so many. Shootings by neighborhood protectors, cops, militarization of police forces, and the abject failure of the predominately white power to acknowledge failures, errors, or illegal behavior.

Power protects itself. When I examined communist and other authoritarian systems, I and many others saw that pattern. No wrong could be committed by those empowered with badges, weaponry or ideology.

I live in a highly intermixed city (Alexandria, Virginia, population 150,000-plus), wherein African Americans, Hispanics, and people of Middle Eastern or Asian origin constitute more than 40 percent of the population, albeit concentrated in certain sections of town. Lo and behold, the police force is not 40-percent non-white. There has been no Ferguson-like violence, the mayor is African-American, and I anticipate nothing akin to what's happening in the St. Louis suburb. However, there are egregious disparities among public schools (Jefferson Houston elementary vis-à-vis Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy), not to mention a largely white private educational system.

There is a fundamental gap between the power and the people. And it is not just guns, since everyone has guns. It is who has the legal right to use, discharge, and kill with those guns. Who has the right to arrest and incarcerate? And against whom?

The police forces of cities have been armed to the teeth, ostensibly against terrorism, by the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. In fact, they have been "over-armed." In 1968 in Chicago, I remember the police beating us but not shooting, and they had no APCs, no Humvees, and no ability to kill wantonly. Now they have that capacity and bring them out of the garage at the least provocation.

Well, guess what? People get angry, angrier than they might have otherwise been. And provocateurs from out of state or across the country glom onto an opportunity for violence, drawn in by the police qua military.

I've served in many capacities in many conflictual zones -- Central America, Mindanao, Caucasus, Bosnia, Ukraine, you name it. One thing's for sure: You do not convince people to be on your side by attacking them.

Alas, Attorney General Holder (vis-à-vis President Obama, now on Martha's Vineyard) will not suffice. He, the Missouri National Guard, Governor Nixon or others will fail, not only in Ferguson but across the nation. There is one who could make a difference, but he is playing golf or swimming, (I don't know what people do on Martha's Vineyard.)

We have very little time before the cumulative effect of socioeconomic inequality and racial bias take an irrevocable toll on the United States. Please, Mr. Obama, end your vacation not for Iraq but for America.

Daniel Nelson leads a consulting firm in Northern Virginia.