The day of reckoning has arrived not just in Ferguson, Missouri, but also across America. For some, the grand jury proceedings to determine whether the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer was justified was never about seeking justice. As widely anticipated in the media, the jury of nine whites and three blacks elected not to indict based on the evidence before them. Sadly, hundreds if not thousands of individuals descended upon this small St. Louis suburb to agitate for an outcome based on their ideology rather than the facts under consideration by the grand jury.
Even though the grand jury elected not to find Officer Darren Wilson responsible for the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, sadly, I never believed that the gathering protesters gathered in Ferguson were seeking justice or a peaceful resolution to the case, which has roiled race relations in America to levels I haven’t seen in decades.
How else to explain those chanting “No Justice, No Peace” in the days leading up to the grand jury’s determination? The only justice sought by those folks involved a conviction against Wilson for killing the “gentle giant” teen. Evidence that favored Wilson’s account—that he tragically shot the teen in self-defense—was conveniently ignored, as doing so neatly fit into the narrative that whites are racist, white police officers assassinate blacks at their leisure, and America is as prejudiced toward people of color as it was in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
Don’t take my word on this. Consider the incendiary words spoken by civil-rights hero and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) last week, when he observed: “When we were beaten on that bridge in Selma, the people couldn’t take it, when they saw it, when they heard about it, when they read about it. There was a sense of righteous indignation. And if we see a miscarriage of justice in Ferguson, we’re going to have the same reaction that people had towards Selma.”
I had yet to be born to observe the events of Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965. On that date, some 600 civil-rights marchers departed Selma and shortly thereafter were met by state troopers who attacked them with dogs, billy clubs, and tear gas. However, one can hardly equate the Jim Crow Deep South, fraught with systemic racism, poll taxes, literacy taxes, and segregated accommodations, to a tragic shooting some 50 years later in which none of us were privy to the facts of the encounter between a police officer and teen in Ferguson.
That Rep. Lewis, who was beaten to within an inch of his life in Selma, would draw a moral equivalence between violence on the part of police officers who viciously beat nonviolent civil-rights protesters with the encounter between Brown and Wilson, where the facts indicated the teen had struggled to wrest control of the officer’s gun, is disheartening. Disheartening because Lewis’ words will give strength and solace to those who believe in the narrative that our country remains overwhelmingly prejudiced toward blacks, instead of confronting the sad reality that almost all shootings involving black men in America today take place at the hands of other black men rather than white police officers.
How can Lewis prejudge an outcome as a miscarriage of justice unless he considers the only proper outcome to be Wilson’s indictment (and, ultimately, conviction)—when the congressman had no access to the evidence considered by the grand jury? While the grand jury ultimately voted in a manner that would displease Lewis, its members were tasked with weighing evidence and facts, while his finger had already tipped the scales of justice to meet an ideological rather than impartial outcome.
Last year, 76 law-enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty, and I’m hard pressed to name one of them. Yet, high-profile cases such as the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown have made these names well-known around the world. Their sad fame comes at the hands of those who push the narrative that white cops are motivated by racial animus to kill blacks. How else to explain the media ignoring the thousands upon thousands of blacks who die at the hands of other blacks—but the sensationalized 24/7 coverage involved when violence is inflicted at the hands of whites toward blacks?
Finally, someone needs to stand up to denounce the violence, rioting, and looting that has besieged Ferguson since the tragic shooting occurred. I fully support nonviolent demonstration—a right enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution. I do not support the belief that violent protest is justified regardless of the outcome of the Ferguson grand jury. But the fact that the Missouri National Guard had to be mobilized, along with thousands of state, local, and federal law-enforcement officers, to quell potential riots and acts of violence is nothing short of a disgrace. That gun sales would skyrocket in the town as shop owners boarded up their places of business to prevent looting is a beacon of clarity that illuminates the fact that for many, Ferguson has become a symbol of lawlessness, civil unrest, and violence rather than one of seeking justice for a slain teen.
One can certainly understand that peaceful protesters would convene at the county courthouse where the grand jury rendered its decision. But I’m at a loss as to why demonstrators also planned in advance to target the headquarters of Boeing, Anheuser-Busch, and the Ritz-Carlton, unless more ulterior motivation was at hand. These businesses had nothing to do with the fatal shooting last August, and their selection as sites for potential protests only point to civil unrest.
Following Gov. Jay Nixon’s news conference last night, protesters were given a two-and-a-half hour head start to assemble prior to the decision being revealed around 8:25 p.m. Watching the coverage, I was worried as I watched protesters converge, with signs such as “No Justice, No Peace. FTP,” or “400 Years of Afrikan Slavery.” Many of those gathering in the run-up to the grand jury decision wore hockey and tear gas masks to conceal their identity.
As the announcement was read, the reaction from the gathered crowd was one of anger and disgust. Justice may well have been served in Ferguson, but the deep wounds of division of race—and the perpetuation of the meme that America is racist toward blacks in confrontations with police—will be the enduring tragedy we must confront in the days to follow.