Is Ferguson on the brink of war? With every fiber in my body I hope the answer is a resounding “No.” In light of recent events, however, a violent confrontation between protestors and law enforcement seems inevitable as a grand jury decides whether to indict a white police officer for the shooting death of a black teenager.
A few days ago I appeared on the Fox Business Network to discuss this question with anchor Lou Dobbs and former federal prosecutor Doug Burns. What struck me over the course of our conversation is that a violent conflict seems almost inevitable given a few startling revelations.
First, the local CBS News affiliate reported a few days ago that a Ferguson resident noted the town “is getting prepared for war” if the grand jury doesn’t indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of the 18-year-old Michael Brown. Never mind that the autopsy report that was recently released indicates wounds sustained by Brown are consistent with apparent statements by Wilson and six African-American eyewitnesses who claim the teen charged the officer and a scuffle for the gun ensued inside the patrol car. That these six eyewitnesses have remained anonymous for fear of their personal safety is revealing in and of itself.
In the same news account, civil rights activists from the Don’t Shoot Coalition have asked local prosecutors to provide them with a 48-hour advance notification of the grand jury decision to “help prevent widespread violence if they have 48 hours to prepare for protests.” The Coalition is comprised of labor unions, anti-war activists, clergy, and so-called black empowerment groups.
Question: Does anyone believe this coalition will use a 48-hour window to quell violence? Or will it or seek to incite it? I tend to believe the latter rather than the former given what we saw in the weeks following Brown’s tragic shooting.
In anticipation, the local police have spent nearly $200,000 to replenish tear gas, less-lethal ammunition, and plastic handcuffs in anticipation of the grand jury’s verdict. Do you think they would have done so if they didn’t anticipate unrest?
The worst part of all of this is that is seems entirely necessary. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently outlined how 1,000 local law enforcement officials received an additional 5,000 hours of training to mitigate potential violence, and the National Guard will be ready at a moment’s notice to step in to assist.
My question is simply this: where are the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in seeking to quell potential violence? The same is to be asked of our Attorney General, and of the President of the United States, both of whom had no problem calling for a civil rights probe of the shooting but have thus far failed to preemptively warn against potential protests from spiraling out of control.
Sharpton and Jackson have indeed spoken out about the situation in Ferguson—but in a manner that appears to inflame rather than calm matters. Just last weekend Sharpton returned to Ferguson for several days of events to call for “justice” for Michael Brown. At one such event Sharpton offered: “If there is not justice for this family, then we have not achieved the goals of this movement.” A less provocative approach would have been to appeal for calm and respect the rule of law and the grand jury’s deliberations regardless of its decision. Sharpton’s view of justice seems to be prejudged and preordained: if Officer Wilson isn’t indicted, justice will not have been served.
Much the same can be said for Jackson’s contributions to calm tensions in the suburban St. Louis city. Writing in USA Today last August, Jackson declared: “Many are observing in Ferguson and witnessing the anger, demonstrations, looting, and vandalism and calling for quiet. But quiet isn’t enough. The absence of noise isn’t the presence of justice—and we must demand justice in Ferguson and the other Fergusons around America.”
I can’t think of a more bombastic, irresponsible, and reprehensible set of remarks offered by an alleged civil rights leader. Quiet and the absence of noise (and presumably violence) isn’t enough for Jackson. Only the desired outcome he seeks is the correct one—the work of the grand jury be damned. Apparently peace, calm, and quiet don’t fulfill Jackson’s narrative—perhaps violence, unrest, and racial animus have only driven his agenda all along.
While our first African American Attorney General was quick to condemn America for being a “nation of cowards” on matters of race, I find it cowardly that he has not consistently spoken out to respect the work of the grand jury and the rule of law. He was too busy, apparently, seeking to bring federal civil rights charges against the charged officer whose fate has not yet been determined by the grand jury. So much for his impartiality.
And where is the President—one so quick to interject himself where race is involved (the Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer acted “stupidly”) but absent when a violent confrontation appears likely if a grand jury does not indict a white officer for the death of a black teenager. He should be speaking out forcefully and frequently about the need for calm as the jurors conclude their work. His silence is both deafening and disheartening.
I find it a sad commentary that the beginning of the Obama era encouraged millions of Americans to think that we had entered a post-racial phase in our evolution as a country from the dark stain that slavery has placed upon our collective history and heritage. As we enter the waning years of the Obama Administration, America remains as divided as ever on matters of race.
Responsible leaders must speak out immediately and urge non-violent reaction to the work of the grand jury investigating the conduct of Officer Wilson. The cornerstone of our democracy is that justice is to be colorblind in its administration. Rather than seek to divide this community and our nation on matter of race, those who speak out for justice for Michael Brown should also respect the rule of law and the decision reached by a jury of their peers whether the determination is made to indict or not.
Let us pray for peace, not violence for Ferguson and our country no matter what the jury in their wisdom might decide.