WASHINGTON, November 25, 2014 — Protests are underway across the country in reaction to the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. In Ferguson, the number of National Guard troops has increased to over 2,500 to protect the area and the people. Despite the increased Guard presence, many of the businesses along Florissant Avenue have been destroyed — burned to the ground.
Wanton destruction has blighted a community that we have heard so many residents speak of with love.
The destruction includes a Little Caesars pizza shop, a locally owned store that provided local jobs, completely burned; nothing is left. The people who worked there are now unemployed. A beauty supply store that provided jobs but also supplies to local businesses, is looted, broken, destroyed. Wanton destruction.
A Walgreens drug store, another source of local jobs, was looted, as was a chicken restaurant. Natalie DuBose, owner of Natalie’s Cakes and More wept when she saw the damage to her Florissant Road bakery, attacked by looters seeking justice for Michael Brown.
Rocks, bricks, bottles and tear gas canisters are flying across the streets of Ferguson. Police cruisers and cars in dealer’s lot were set ablaze. A law office has been burned.
Despite the destruction, it has not all been bleak. There are stories of the protesters saving Cathy’s Kitchen, a locally-loved eating space.
Unfortunately, those stories are overshadowed by the destructive behavior of those who came to steal, destroy, tear asunder the fabric of this community.
These actions make Michael Brown’s death meaningless. They stop the conversation that could have begun in earnest.
The anger by the community is an eruption of frustration with police who too often use excessive force when dealing with the public, particularly against young black men who are suspect for being nothing more than young black men. The anger young people feel over police brutality is real, and justified.
No one, not black, brown or white deserves to be attacked by the police, to be hurt, harmed for walking down the street.
Unfortunately, the riots destroyed the chance to change the cycle, to readjust the way police profile young black men. For some, the violence in Ferguson provides justification for the stereotype.Those predisposed to judge young black men as thugs will point to the chaos as proof of their prejudice.
Violent protesters in Ferguson were not demonstrating against the grand jury, nor were they honoring the memory of Michael Brown. They were not joining together to demand equal rights, equal justice or a paradigm change in the way some in authority view minority populations.
Instead, they made Michael Brown, and his family, and their community victims of violence once again.
Those who burned and looted, who destroyed property and dreams, are criminals who deserve to be rounded up and prosecuted. Legally. Not violently.
After witnessing the violence, the hate, the lack of respect for themselves, their community, the businesses that allow a community to flourish, it will be hard for police, regardless of their color, to look at the young black men of Ferguson and not see a rioter, a looter or a killer.
And it will take a lot of very good men and women in our police forces to be able to stop and treat the young black man with a sense of public trust.
There are two issues at play here.
Michael Brown was killed after he stole property and used his size to intimadate the store clerk who tried to stop him.
Michaeal Brown was killed because when a police officer told him to get out of the middle of the street, he reacted aggressively, then used his size to threaten that police officer.
Brown family attorneys Crump and Gray continue to stir the pot of hatred, claiming that the grand jury was swayed by “presentation of the facts” by the prosecutors office. They keep telling Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, to seek justice.
And when justice was not delivered to condemn the cop and exonerate the son, her pain was ripped anew and more violence was sparked with the statement “burn this bitch down” — Burn Ferguson.
The attorneys suggest that the 12 people on the grand jury were incompetent to make an intelligent and thoughtful decision.
They claim that there is no way that the grand jury could be fair and impartial.
This contradicts information that the members of the grand jury took their task seriously, and no doubt understood the magnitude of their burden. In fact, it would have been easier to indict and walk away, letting the trial process make the final decision.
But the grand jury did not do that. It listened to the evidence and made a decision not to indict.
Crump and Gray refuse to recognize the results. They talk in incendiary ways that will only serve to incite more violence.
Only there is nothing left in Ferguson to burn.
What no one is saying is that the legal system worked. The enforcement of the law is based on juries of our peers. People. Everyday people without political agendas coming to a conclusion, based on evidence presented, listening and weighing information. The grand jury was comprised of peers of both Wilson and Brown. They did not enter the proceedings wanting to find one result over another.
The jurors who declined to indict Wilson must have reviewed extremely compelling evidence to not return any charge against him. And regardless of whether Wilson was a police officer, he should not be found guilty of a crime he did not commit.
Justice does not ignore the actions of Brown that day, nor does it automatically condemn Wilson for his. It does not cower to the cries of mobs. It does not bend based on the tragic grieving of a mother or a widow.
Instead, it examines the facts.
Early reports of eyewitness testimony are that Brown was the aggressor in the altercation with Wilson. When the fatal shot was fired, Brown was rushing toward Wilson. Forensics bear this truth out. Blood on the street shows that Brown was down, and then got back up and charged toward Wilson.
Prosecutor McCulloch says that the role of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction. The fact is that Brown is dead. And that though he was unarmed, his physically charging of the police officer was a weapon in and of itself.
Those who feel the process was unfair say that the prosecutor could have presented evidence in a way that would sway the grand jury to indict Wilson. That the prosecutor needed to attack Wilson, cross examine him, try to trip up the witness to indict themsevles.
The rush by media, community leaders and by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to judge Wilson only adds to the pain felt in Ferguson. A young man did die. It is sad and tragic. The pain of Brown’s mother will not go away because of screams for justice.
The call for justice that began almost immediately following Brown’s shooting never considered that Wilson may have had little choice in what happened.
The call for justice may not be in keeping Michael Brown alive as a cornerstone of hate but as a bulwark for change.
In the end, violence — whether it be the violence created by Michael Brown or the violence in Wilson’s response — is what killed Michael Brown.
And the violent response in Ferguson draws our attention away from the conversation about police, and how police need to change.
How we need to change.