In response to a community angered by a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, authorities in the St. Louis suburb have brought out dogs. Authorities have deployed military-grade equipment, including armored vehicles. Authorities have fired tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber bullets at demonstrators. Authorities have mobilized the highway patrol to escort protesters and deployed police in riot gear to guard businesses. Authorities have issued a state of emergency so a curfew could be imposed on residents. And now, authorities have ordered National Guard members to provide help with security.
One thing authorities in Ferguson have not done to try and calm the anger is arrest Officer Darren Wilson for allegedly shooting and killing Michael Brown.
A private autopsy requested by Brown’s family shows that Brown was shot at least six times. Brown suffered a fatal shot that entered the top of his skull. Four shots also hit his right arm, which is consistent with eyewitness testimony claiming Brown put his arms in the air and said, “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting!”
The family’s attorney, Daryl Parks, has contended that, given these facts, “This officer should have been arrested.”
Brown’s mother asked, “What else do we need to give them to arrest the killer of my child?”
There is a simple answer to why Wilson has not been arrested and also has been reportedly allowed to leave the city. Wilson is a white police officer and Brown was a black teenager. Police who kill black Americans are rarely held accountable for their crimes or are often able to take refuge in a legal system that will contort itself to protect them.
In 250 cases of extrajudicial killings in 2012, only eight police were charged with crimes [PDF]. This means about 3% of officers involved in killings faced charges for their conduct.
A more specific answer is that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch has not relied upon existing evidence to bring charges against Wilson and arrest him. He could have Wilson arrested but has bucked responsibility and empaneled a grand jury to determine whether to indict Wilson.
The objectivity of McCulloch has been in question. His father, according to the Washington Post, was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty when he was twelve years-old. The person who killed his father was black.
McCulloch has been a prosecutor since 1991. Fourteen years ago, McCulloch was in charge of investigating “two white police officers who fatally shot two black men.”
“The two officers, undercover drug agents, shot Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, both unarmed, on June 12, 2000, in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley. A county grand jury declined to indict the officers; McCulloch said he agreed with the decision,” the Post reported.
Johnson City Press reported, “U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and state Sens. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Jamilah Nasheed — all of whom are black — have called on McCulloch to consent to a special prosecutor.”
The grand jury could easily result in no indictment. In January, a grand jury in North Carolina cleared Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick of voluntary manslaughter after he responded to a reported robbery, fired twelve shots and killed Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was in an accident and trying to get help.
If the situation is volatile now, it would undoubtedly become worse if a grand jury declined to indict Wilson on at least a manslaughter charge. McCulloch could recuse himself from the investigation and appoint a special prosecutor, given an increasingly perceived conflict of interest. But, McCulloch seems personally invested in not bowing to pressure from critics who have accused him of being biased.
Unfortunately, Ferguson police, St. Louis County police, Ferguson city officials and other local officials do not want to accept that the words, “No Justice, No Peace,” have been uttered with meaning that residents will stand behind. Brown’s family and Ferguson residents won’t stop protesting until Wilson is arrested.
The militaristic actions of police and the dictatorial measures for security signed off on by Governor Jay Nixon have led to significant rights violations and served to further inflame a community that already believed authorities didn’t really care about them. There are human beings who have mobilized and are crying out to be treated with dignity, not as dissenting animals to be controlled and crushed.
But, as of now, with the exception of Captain Ron Johnson of the highway patrol, who has shown some level of empathy toward residents, authorities have neglected or refused to apologize for the tragedy of Brown’s death. They have not apologized for leaving his body to lie in the streets for about four hours after he was killed. They have not apologized for initially bungling the investigation by not asking eyewitnesses for information on the shooting. They have not apologized for failing to have officers on the ground trying to make peace with residents in the community, who they deeply offended through their actions. They have not apologized for keeping the name of the officer who shot Brown secret. They have permitted officers to go around calling Ferguson residents “animals.”
A robbery video and police records on this incident, which Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson presented as surveillance footage allegedly showing Brown stealing cigars, was released to the press at the same time that Wilson’s name was first made public. The release of this information was clearly intended to manipulate the press into casting Brown as a robbery suspect instead of an innocent victim of a police killing. It worked until press pushed Jackson into admitting Wilson had no idea Brown was implicated in a robbery when he encountered him.
That shenanigan undercut the rapport Cpt. Johnson had built with the community, inflamed the community once more and eventually led to property damage that convinced Nixon a curfew was needed. No apology has been given for this act; in fact, Jackson has been content to blame the media for requesting the video, even though no reporters really knew there had been a robbery which Brown had allegedly been involved.
Such conduct, including the indiscriminate firing of tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators, including families with children, fits in with the record of racist policing that has persisted in the community. Eighty-six percent of stops by the predominantly white police force in 2013 involved black people. Twelve percent involved white people. The search rate for blacks was nearly twice the rate of searches for whites, even though the contraband hit rate was higher for whites than blacks.
All of the aforementioned conduct has further escalated the situation. Just about every authoritarian action witnessed has pushed residents to become even angrier. Bringing in the National Guard marks another escalation. It is another move out of fear that will not resolve the issues, which have the community on edge.
Ferguson residents recognize being black means one will be a suspect first then the burden will be on that person to prove they shouldn’t be brutalized or targeted by police. Being white, especially if in a position of authority, means one is innocent no matter what has happened and an exceptionally high burden is placed on investigators to show malicious intent was behind activity commonly seen as criminal behavior. With Brown’s killing, they say no more; this dynamic is not going to be allowed to continue.
The way to end the high tension is to give the community justice. That justice can start by arresting Wilson. Only with justice can there be peace in Ferguson. Without justice in Ferguson, there will be no peace.