Racism, Discrimination and Privilege
I have known and seen racism and discrimination. I have known and experienced privilege.
And I have the common sense to distinguish between the two.
Ferguson is a place that is riddled with racism and discrimination. The police are known by all to engage in discrimination and racism. The state has disbanded police departments for racism and other malfeasance. Darren Wilson belonged to one such department to start his career. He came to Ferguson where the Department has long had issues in policing the community. All but a handful of officers are white in a community that is overwhelmingly black.
Blacks are stopped far more frequently than white (when adjusting per capita). That’s despite fact that whites that are stopped are found to have contraband in higher rates.
In this respect, Ferguson is hardly alone. Many other communities around the St. Louis region (and indeed nationally) face the same problems.
But the specifics of this case are exceptionally troubling. Only Officer Wilson was able to speak to what happened - and it was couched from the outset that he feared for his life when he stopped Brown. Both were the same height (Brown had 70 pounds on him). All the shots were fired by Wilson. And Brown lay dead more than 150 feet from the vehicle, in about a minute after the stop was initiated by Wilson.
All the eyewitness evidence was disregarded or minimized by the fact that Wilson feared for his life. That there’s no bruising apparent from the photos taken hours later. Yet, he thought he was a punch or two from being disabled?
McCullough had all the evidence necessary to indict, but presented everything in a fashion that made indictment unlikely. McCullough never intended to indict - this was for show. And McCullough is part of the vary institutions that allow the racism to persist.
Now, none of this excuses the looting and violence in Ferguson. Why these people think that the response to the failure to indict is to loot and burn down businesses that serve the very community are boggling. At the same time, the police seemed to have wanted to incite this further - firing round after round of tear gas and smoke indiscriminately against protesters - peaceful or otherwise. Yet, those actions seem to get overlooked in the face of the rioting and looting.
And the looting/violence takes away the indisputable fact - Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown and will not be tried in a Missouri state court for those actions because the prosecutor manipulated the process not to look to the facts, but to protect a cop.
Brown’s family will need to seek justice elsewhere. They have to hope that the US Department of Justice will indict on civil rights charges, or else recognize the overwhelming racism and other problems inherent in the policing of communities in and around St. Louis that require more than just weakly worded statements. The Ferguson Police Department, among others, needs to be disbanded not only for their actions directly in Wilson’s shooting of Brown, but the systemic and endemic racism. A consent order, up to and including disbanding and reforming the police departments is needed.
The family is also likely to seek a civil remedy, but that’s a cold comfort when the criminal justice system failed to do its job in protecting the public from police who shoot first and make excuses after.
But a political sea-change is needed as well. The elected leaders of Ferguson and other surrounding communities are tone deaf to what’s gone on for decades, and they too are part of the problem. Changing faces isn’t enough. A change in mindset is needed, as well as how we address officer-involved shootings.
The prosecutor Bob McCullough had no interest in indicting a cop. He’s refused to do so before, and he put up a case that insured that they wouldn’t return an indictment either.
As I’ve noted, the problems aren’t confined to Ferguson. Days after Brown was killed by Wilson, a mentally ill man was shot and killed in St. Louis. Police initially claimed that the man lunged at police before they shot him.
Yet, video shows a completely different story. They shot him despite no evidence at all that he was lunging. He was walking around slowly. There was no attempt at pacifying him with less than lethal measures. No tasering. No attempt to coax him into dropping the small knife.
Just fired until dead.
And there’s still no indictment or evidence that any of the officers involved will be held accountable for their actions.
Ferguson may have been the trigger, but the conversation has to be more than just about what happened on Canfield. It’s what happens on streets all across the country where police use deadly force in incidents that could have been resolved without shots fired.
After all, if police can capture cop killers, mass bombers, and serial killers without shots fired, then arresting someone for possible petit larceny, let alone jaywalking seems reasonable.