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A friend of mine told me today, "I have that Trayvon Martin feeling in my stomach."
Turns out: It was a warranted sickness.
Right now, there are police cars on fire in Ferguson. Tear gas is back, and I expect to see the tanks roll out any minute. A building next to the McDonalds on Florissant is on fire. While across the country, from New York to San Francisco, thousands of protestors are out in force, trying to reclaim some sense of power that's been taken from them once again.
Justice? What justice?
When it was announced just an hour ago that Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown, a lot of the calculated statements that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in his attempt at a "calming" press conference preceding the verdict suddenly made a depressing amount of sense.
Because if you know that folks are going to hear -- again -- that a police officer is about to escape responsibility for the shooting of an unarmed Black teen, and you know that disgusted residents (of both your state and of America) are starting to get really tired of hearing that tune, it just makes good sense to call for a State of Emergency and have the National Guard on standby.
I must admit: Once I turned 50 years old, I made a resolution to myself that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be disappointed by things anymore -- unless they really surprised me.
So when the Grand Jury’s decision came down, the fact that I expected the heartbreaking lack of justice softened the blow by just a little -- but not by much. While I may not be disappointed because a lack of indictment was exactly what I expected, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.
Because it hurts like hell.
Shortly after 9 p.m. eastern time, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCullough announced the Grand Jury’s decision at a press conference. It was a rambling, dispassionate affair in which McCullough said that Wilson’s actions were justified.
“There is no question, of course that Wilson caused the death of Michael Brown by shooting him,” he said. “But the law allows people to use self defense in certain situations. There is evidence that shows that Officer Wilson did act in self- defense. Therefore, no probable cause exists to indict Darren Wilson.”
Brown’s family issued a statement in which they said they are “profoundly disappointed” that Wilson won’t face any consequences for Michael Brown’s death.
They also called for peace.
“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the Brown family said. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.”
Right now, just moments ago in New York, police commissioner William Bratton was just splattered with fake blood. It's not violence. But I sure hope it gets a reaction.
President Barack Obama also issued a statement.
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we face as a nation,” he said. “This is tragic because nobody needs good policing like poor communities with high crime rates.”
I have to be honest here.
If the family doesn’t projectile vomit at McCullough’s offering of condolences on Michael’s death and his call for a continued discussion on “the issues that brought us here so that we won’t have to deal with them again, they’re better than me.
The decision not to indict came after months of protest against the killing of young Michael Brown. It was on August 9 that the lives of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson collided when Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, shot Brown, 18, who was unarmed and on his way back to his grandmother’s house with a friend.
A combination of Brown’s body being left in the street to bake in the hot Missouri sun for more than four hours and the anger of residents who saw this as yet another injustice in an ever-growing list led to residents taking to the streets in protest. When some of the demonstrations led to property damage and arrests, the Ferguson police brought tanks and tear gas to create what seemed like a war zone that barely resembled America at all.
More than a few reporters ended up tear gassed, in jail and were otherwise prevented from doing their Constitutionally protected jobs. In fact, the tear gas was flowing so freely in Ferguson that young people from the West Bank were sending residents tips on how to wash out your eyes after a tear gas attack. (Use Coca Cola or milk. Water just increases the burn.)
The paramilitary response and how First Amendment freedoms found themselves trampled on were among the subjects that came up in a press conference Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon held prior to the Grand Jury’s announcement.
In addition to the State of Emergency he called last week, Nixon outlined the plans that state and local law enforcement had made to make sure that any demonstrations were peaceful ones.
“It is our shared hope and expectation is that regardless of the decision that people on all sides show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint,” Nixon said. “We are all focused on making sure that the necessary resources are at hand to protect lives, protect property and protect free speech.”
Tell that to the anger setting the streets on fire right now, governor.
St. Louis County Executive Charles Dooley called on residents to look at the big picture. “I want people to think with their heads and not with emotion. We have to remain focused on the long-term, systemic changes that have to take place in our community. I don’t want people in this community to think that they have to barricade their doors and take up arms. This is not time to turn on each other, it’s a time to turn to each other.”
Brown was one of four unarmed Black men who had been shot during the month of August by police. Ezell Ford, 24 was shot in the back by Los Angeles police, John Crawford of Beavercreek, Ohio, was shot while brandishing an unloaded BB gun at a Wal-Mart, and Eric Garner was choked to death by police in New York City.
Only Garner’s death has been ruled a homicide.
Now I would mention the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland on Sunday, but I know that if I do that, if I mention yet another young Black man shot and killed by police, I’ll hear a chorus of “What about Black on Black crime?”
Frankly, I'm not in the mood to deal with such ignorance at the moment.
Instead I would counter with this question, perhaps the only question that matters right now: As long as people believe there are two different justice systems for Whites and for Blacks in America, why does anyone think there will be peace?