by: Michael Shields
Across the Margin tunes into the chorus of exasperated voices bemoaning the failure of Justice in Ferguson, Missouri….
Tuesday night in Ferguson, Missouri, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch saddled up behind the lectern to deliver the Grand Jury’s decision in the case against police officer Darren Wilson. Expectantly, Mr. McCulloch dispensed the verdict that many of us were regrettably awaiting. The way in which he did it, however, was mystifying, bizarre, and unequivocally capricious.
Before laying out in disorientating detail why Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the murder of Michael Brown, McCulloch took aim at what he believed was the true reason for the heightened tensions in Ferguson: social media. In a disconcerting, and altogether misguided and disrespectful diatribe, he wasted no time getting to what he thought was at the heart of the issue, stating, “the most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media.” Taking aim at the tweeters and the bloggers, McCulloch, the son of a police officer shot in the line of duty, took the time to lay out a series of justifications for the murder of an unarmed man. One where an eighteen year old was shot dead in the streets and left there inexplicably for four hours.
Robert McCulloch’s bewildering press conference didn’t end with his admonishment of the Internet and the media’s insatiable appetite of course, this is only where it began. He went on to talk about “closely guarded details” of the case, further heightening a swelling national distrust of an unchecked judicial system. He spoke of the unreliability of eyewitnesses at length, and discussed the details of the Grand Jury’s deliberations. In essence, McCulloch’s explanation absolved himself, the Prosecuting Attorney, of any responsibility in judgement, claiming the Grand Jury to be an independent entity. And in that vein, McCulloch seemed to find a way to push blame on everyone and everything except the man who pulled the trigger, leaving our country now with the unsettling fact that justice for Michael Brown’s homicide will not be served and the realization that his grieving parents will not have retribution for the loss of their son. The Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson further confirms the failures of the justice system in Ferguson, Missouri, and leaves a sickening feeling in our nation’s stomach as we watched a prosecutor bend over backward to protect one of its own.
As stated previously, none of this was much of a surprise. It’s extremely rare for a police officer to face an indictment for a shooting, much less criminal punishment. The truth of the matter is that the law, particularly in Missouri, gives wide berth to the police department in the use of deadly force. We are not only deeply immersed within a culture of unwavering and unquestioning support for the Police, but are also entrenched with a Police force that has become heavily militarized in an effort to defend itself from those they have pledged an oath to protect and serve. Although unsurprising, the Grand Jury’s decision serves as another devastating blow to Civil Rights in America. What happened to Michael Brown was not a unique incident, but part of a larger phenomenon, an alarming national trend of police officers using extreme force against people of color and minorities. And in far too many of these cases, just like here in Ferguson, the officers and their representative police departments are not held accountable for their overly aggressive and deadly actions.
If one were to sit down and attempt to summarize the amount for police brutality and misconduct that occurred within the United States this year, it would be a trying task. Of course, a solid majority of police officers are doing their job, protecting those around them and acting with appropriate discretion and moral conduct, but these undercurrents of police violence that are occurring throughout our country are flat out unacceptable. Simply mourning the deaths of young black men isn’t good enough any more. In fact, it never was. Police reform will not happen on its own. And Ferguson, in the wake of this duplicitous inaction, appears to be the front lines in a long-overdue battle towards reversing a deep-seated and troubling problem.
But regardless of what happens now, it is hard not to dwell on the fact that an opportunity was missed. It would have been a powerful moment to see charges filed against Darren Wilson. An indictment would show that Brown’s life mattered. That the lives of people like him matter. And that communities of those needlessly victimized deserve answers and explanations for police violence. It could have been a turning point, instead of another jarring blow to Civil Rights in a country with a precarious history of discrimination.
I live in a bubble. The world that I inhabit, on the mean streets of gentrified Brooklyn, is diverse, understanding and altogether amorous. This morning I dropped my daughter off at school and her best friend Isabel, who is black and one of the cutest little things on the planet, embraced my daughter with a warm hug as she does everyday. In that moment, and in that gesture, everything just felt right in the world. But it’s not. Far from it.
For thirty six years now I have been wittingly benefitting from the avails of white privilege. It isn’t something I am proud off, but I cannot for one moment doubt its existence. But it is on nights like Tuesday evening that I come to fully grasp how difficult it must often be on the other side of that coin. It is unquestionable that there exists an unmitigated double standard that empowers a select facet of the population and offers a completely different experience for people of different colors. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, our nation is still attempting to overcome centuries of systemic racism, and failing miserably. Black America’s status as a permanent underclass is baked directly into the foundations of our economic and social system, and piecemeal reforms have proven utterly inadequate to the task of fixing the problem. And thus, frustration has bubbled rapidly to the surface, and we now find ourselves fighting for what far too many people believed was already accomplished, Equality.
This isn’t simply about Mike Brown. This is part of a larger Civil Rights Movement. It’s about people. All of us. McCulloch’s justifications are an indictment of us all, and an embarrassment to a country supposedly founded upon the idea of equal rights for all of its constituents. Today, I am ashamed to be an American. I am ashamed of our Justice System. And I am utterly confounded about the fact that it’s 2014 and racism is alive and well, living in breathing in our streets and in the halls of our courts. What the fuck?