Irving: The aftermath of Ferguson; Still better in America

Protestors outside Justice Dept., Washington, DC
Protestors outside Justice Dept., Washington, DC

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2014 – Was it racism? — sure. What isn’t in America? Although I challenge anyone to find a country that handles racism better than America.

Was it a police reaction to a crime? – sure. Brown allegedly stole from a store, captured on videotape.

Was it a policeman panicking? — sure. Especially after his pistol repeatedly misfired when he was either trying to warn Brown or shoot him.

Was Brown at fault? – sure. As a large white person, I’m totally convinced that if I reached into a police car, hit the cop twice in the face, tried to grab his gun, ran, and then turned back, I would have been shot by any cop, black or white, male or female. Hell, it practically happens to me when I’m not doing a damn thing.

Was Wilson at fault? – sure. Over-reaction, stereotyping, bad gun-cleaning hygiene, panic, anger at being disobeyed, and racism.

Does Ferguson’s police department need to reform? – Of course. It’s a remnant white department in a newly black area. Hire diverse cops all the way to the top–let the old white guys go to other departments.

Would the same thing have happened if Wilson was black? — I think so. If a black cop confronted a black man who allegedly reached into his car, punched him, and tried to grab his gun, you don’t think the same fear/anger response wouldn’t have occurred?

Was the Grand Jury process a “coverup”? – I did think so and I changed my mind. The prosecutor clearly would never have brought charges–for whatever reason, he didn’t believe a crime had been committed. Now, nine whites and three blacks have spent three months going through all the evidence (I’m assuming it was all) and did not indict and, since the transcripts are public, the entire nation gets to do the same. My understanding is that it would have taken nine votes to indict so the decision not to indict was not along purely racial lines.

Would a Special Prosecutor have been better? Are you kidding? Have you looked at the record of the special and independent prosecutors since Nixon? Special prosecutors are the worst remedy for anything–name ONE that succeeded in convicting anyone but the innocent.

Is the media at fault? Damn right — My old friends were practically begging for Ferguson residents to set fires and riot and sounded downright depressed when not enough people came out. Plus they bought into rumors and social media bull crap before the Grand Jury announcement as if the Boston Bombing had taught them nothing.

Was the prosecutor at fault? Sure. Even assuming that he presented an honest accounting of the facts to a grand jury, he announced it at a time guaranteed to provoke the maximum reaction from Ferguson citizens.

Are the witnesses in conflict? Sure. When I was on a jury, the primary duty of the 12 jury members was to decide, as average citizens, who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. The question of guilt or innocence followed only after the decision on who the hell was a lying bastard because, in every instance, they had different stories. That’s what jury trials really are–placing the decision of truth or falsehood in the hands of citizens and not government officials.

Would a public criminal trial have been better? Not necessarily, you would have had legal shenanigans on both sides obscuring the facts Do you really think that “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” and “these savages were ‘wilding’ through the Park” really added to the clear public perception of whether a crime had been committed?

Do we need to make changes? With young black males being shot by police at a rate 21 times higher than young white males. With one out of 5 black men in New York State in some part of the criminal justice system (last time I looked)? With blacks getting harsher penalties for the same crimes? Hell yes.

Should we care what any politician, journalist, or pundit has to say after they’ve had just over a day to review 25 days of Grand Jury testimony? Hell, no. All you can do in that short a time is to cherry-pick facts that support your previously-held opinion.

Am I thankful to be an American? Damn right because Americans keep coming back and at least trying to change what’s wrong even though they never get it completely right.

I was watching Remember the Titans last night and realized that when I was a teenager, black families were not allowed to join the town Swimming “Club.”

Real estate documents had secret covenants to ensure blacks and Jews couldn’t buy the properties, Diahann Carroll was the first black ever to star on a network TV show.

The first blacks and Hispanics appeared in a television commercial (Marlboros, as I remember,) and my high school basketball team had stones and bottles thrown at us in Collingwood PA for having blacks on our team –and beating Collingwood. (The cool thing about that was that after a black JV player was called a “spook,” both black and white Varsity players came bouncing out of the locker room armed for battle with empty Coke bottles and short lengths of 2 by 4s.)

When I got to ABC News in 1973, there was ONE black correspondent who was limited to “black” news and only black trainee engineers who were openly referred to as “boy” and “token.”

And we would NEVER have even bothered to cover Ferguson except as a riot.

Yeah, with everything, I am glad to be an American.

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Terry Irving is an American four-time Emmy award-winning writer and producer. He has won three Peabody Awards, three DuPont Awards and has been a producer, editor or writer with ABC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC. He was in Washington DC in 1973 for a few weeks until deciding on career where he ended up riding a classic BMW R50/2 for ABC News during Watergate. Carrying that news film was the beginning of a 40-year long career that has included producing Emmy Award-winning television news, writing everything from magazine articles to standup comedy and developing many of the earliest forms of online media. Follow Terry on Twitter @TerryIrving; On Facebook or at his website