WASHINGTON, November 25, 2014 — Protests have erupted in Ferguson, in New York City, and in Oakland, California. In New York, some 2,000 people took to the streets of midtown Manhattan, marching down Broadway and through Times Square chanting, “Justice for Mike Brown.” The marchers, most of them young adults, spread over four blocks.
The protests in Ferguson have become violent and destructive. A Little Caesar’s, a locally owned store that provided local jobs, was completely burned; nothing is left. The people who worked there are now unemployed.
A Walgreens drug store, another source of local jobs, is being looted.
Rocks, bricks, bottles and tear gas canisters are flying across the streets of Ferguson. Police cruisers have been set ablaze. A law office has been burned. Reports of gunshots mean that eventually, someone will probably be fatally shot.
What are the people of Ferguson so violently protesting?
The St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson, 28, for the August confrontation that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. McCulloch said the jury of nine whites and three blacks met over 25 separate days.
Those jurors were the first to hear, see, and read every last piece of evidence. What we do know is:
- The grand jury met for 25 separate days;
- They listened to 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses;
- The jurors were presented with five indictment options, ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter;
- Three medical examiners testified;
- Three autopsies returned consistent results;
- Two shots were fired while Officer Wilson was in his police car;
- Brown’s body lay 153 feet east of Wilson’s car;
- There was less than 90 seconds between the first shot and the arrival of a second police car;
- Audio of the final 10 shots was captured on video.
McCulloch says that many witnesses presented conflicting statements that were inconsistent with the physical evidence. On CNN, Van Jones blames the protestors’ violent response on McCulloch, saying his tone in announcing the decision was wrong.
The cry is for justice for Michael Brown. What about justice for Darren Wilson? Wilson was found to be acting in self defense, meaning that at first he thought he would be killed. Because of cries for justice for Michael Brown, he thought he would spend the rest of his life in jail for defending his own life.
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. 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.
Early reports of eyewitness testimony are that Brown was the aggressor; when the fatal shot was fired, he was rushing toward Wilson. The media, agitators, and witnesses all provided information that the grand jury sifted through. Prosecutor McCulloch says that the role of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction.
The rush by media, community leaders and by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to judge Wilson only adds to the pain being felt in Ferguson. A young man did die. It is sad and tragic. Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden reacted strongly to the ruling, screaming to attorney Benjamin Crump, “What do you mean no indictment.?”
The call for justice that began almost immediately following Brown’s shooting never considered that Wilson may have had little choice in what happened.
People forgot that justice might not ignore Browns’ actions that day, and might not condemn Wilson for his.
Attorney Crump continues to call for justice for Michael Brown, saying that there needs to be a change in a system that allows police officers to kill unarmed black children and then not be punished.
Addressing the nation, President Obama said, “We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.” He said it was understandable that some Americans would be “deeply disappointed — even angered” by the decision. He failed to state that the rule of law on which this nation was built returned a just decision, and that justice has indeed been met in this case.
The Justice Department will continue its investigation into possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount such a prosecution.
The department also has launched a broad probe into the Ferguson Police Department, looking for patterns of discrimination.
But it seems that Brown was killed for reasons we will learn as over the next few days, and we will see the evidence the grand jury saw and know what the grand jury knows.
When that happens, will Holder, Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others from the media to the pulpit stand up and say, “the death of Michael Brown is a tragedy. But the fault for Michael Brown’s death lies with Michael Brown.
The way police act towards citizens, in particular black men, is a tragedy. It is wrong.
However how does rampaging, and looting by young black men help to change that? How does burning your home and your town help to change that?
The answer is, it doesn’t.
The response of people in Ferguson, many of them outside agitators, to the lawful deliberations of the grand jury may be the biggest tragedy of all.
By doing what was expected by a governor that called in the National Guard, those who resort to violence devalue Michael Brown’s life. Because 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.