Michael Brown is dead. Darren Wilson’s career as a police officer is over. What remains are doubts that, absent a trial, we’ll ever know the truth about Ferguson, and the certainty that this nation’s racial divide in this country is as unremitting as ever.
So what to make of the disappointing grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August? When the threshold for indictment is so low that, as the saying goes, you could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, the failure to indict in this case is pathetic.
Twelve bullets fired at an unarmed man would seem prima facie evidence of probable cause that excessive force was used. We also ask, at what point does excessive force become at least involuntary manslaughter? We’ll never know because the months’ long proceedings were behind closed doors. We’re told that eyewitness testimony (there were 60 witnesses) was conflicting: Michael Brown was bearing down threateningly on Officer Wilson; Michael Brown was coming toward him with hands in the air; Michael Brown was moving away from Wilson.
Despite releasing 1000 pages of documents he had presented to the grand jury, (as if that would explain the unusual failure to find probable cause), the prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, reportedly never probed for answers to the tough questions. The result is an implausible grand jury decision. I’d be stunned if many of the media reporting on that have actually read those 1000 pages. What the media did best was to gin up the anticipation of the verdict, hyping the growing tension in expectation of violence, and, when the ill-timed nighttime announcement was made, focusing on the violence and not the peaceful protests, and accentuating the looting and burning of community businesses.
There’s every reason to protest, albeit peacefully. An unarmed person gets shot and killed by a police officer using excessive force. That unarmed person is a young black man, and the officer is white. Sixty-seven percent of the Ferguson population is black, with just six percent of the police force and only a quarter of the grand jury being people of color. The lack of diversity in law enforcement and apparent lack of training have fed the lack of trust. Police work is dangerous; so is life in the community. There’s little respect for authority, but also bias against young black men.
Where are the street workers helping to guide troubled young people toward appropriate services? Where, for that matter, are the services they need? Where are the politicians willing to do the hard work of funding those services and equally willing not to play on fears for political advantage. Where are the reporters who will stay with the story long after the looting stops, the embers cool and the flash point moves elsewhere? Where is the leadership to move this nation beyond the despair underlying this tragic circumstance?
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