The Burning South

In the days leading up to Monday’s decision, Ferguson was beginning to look more and more like a war zone rather than an American suburb. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, in apparent preparation for the announcement, took preemptive action by deploying the Missouri National Guard to Ferguson. He also declared a state of emergency a week before the decision was released to the media and public. The United States and the world at large anxiously held their breath as St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch was going to announce whether or not white police officer Darren Wilson was going face trial in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown. Other than members of the press and an entourage of police donned in riot gear, there was no one else near the federal courthouse in front of downtown Missouri. The street was cordoned off with barricades so there were no civilians or protesters in the streets.

After three months of listening to all witness and expert testimony, examining every piece of evidence, and deliberating the facts, jurors finally came to decision. At around 9:15 PM EST, McCulloch appeared before the podium and began relaying the grand jury’s decision to the press and to the world. It was the announcement heard ’round the world; the future of this country could very well rest on the grand jury’s decision. My jaw dropped as McCulloch announced that the grand jury found no probable cause to indict Officer Wilson. I was immediately outrage by what I perceived to be miscarriage of justice.

Season’s greetings from Ferguson, Police State USA

I was far from being the only person astonished by the grand jury’s decision. Almost immediately following the announcement, protesters throughout the country went to the streets. A police cruiser was flipped over and subsequently set on fire by a group of protesters shortly after the press conference. Police in riot gear swarmed throughout Ferguson. My friends and I were in their dorm as the announcement came out. We then started looking at live streams of people inside the protests. What we saw was mixed; in some parts of Ferguson, there were reports of looting and apparently, a Little Caesar’s and a Walgreen’s were set on fire. In most parts of Ferguson, however, the protests were peaceful and respectful despite a heavy police presence.

Protesters in New York’s Time Square

The grand jury’s decision was shocking, but in a way, people saw it coming. A white police officer going to trial for killing an unarmed black teenager? That’s absurd. We would never allow that to happen in the good ol’ US of A, right?

Except we have. Time and time and time again. It has gotten to the point where one black man gets killed by police every 28 hours. How many of those deaths are actually justifiable is up for debate. Some would argue that the police shouldn’t use any lethal force at all while others argue that Officer Wilson was in his right to shoot Brown. After all, shouldn’t a man who is fearing for his life have a right to use self-defense? Brown was a big boy, right? At six feet four inches and 292 pounds, Brown was a bit heftier than Wilson, who is the same height and weight 210 pounds. Wilson stated that he “… just felt the immense power that he [Brown] had. And then the way I’ve described it is, it was like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan. That’s just how big this man was. He was very large, very powerful man.”

Riot police confronting protesters amid a cloud of tear gas.

Darren’s testimony to the grand jury was released shortly after the announcement of his acquittal and was immediately examined by journalists and people alike. While reading Darren Wilson’s testimony, I found it incredibly hard to believe. I wouldn’t necessarily say Darren Wilson was lying, nor that he might be exaggerating the truth even a little bit, but I found it difficult to believe anyone in their right mind would act the way Wilson said Michael Brown acted that fateful summer afternoon.

Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll just copy and paste his testimony directly, because I wouldn’t want to put words in Officer Wilson’s mouth.

I’m opening the door he turns, faces me, looks at me 21 and says, “what the fuck are you going to do about 22 it”, and shuts my door, slammed it shut. I haven’t 23 even got it open enough to get my leg out, it was 24 only a few inches.

Picture of Wilson shortly after he shot and killed Brown.

Well, after the last shot my tunnel vision kind of opened up. I remember seeing the smoke from the gun and I kind of looked at him and he’s still coming at me, he hadn’t slowed down… At this point it looked like he was  almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.  And the face that he had was looking  straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I  wasn’t even anything in his way.

I felt that another one of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse. I mean it  was, he’s obviously bigger than I was and stronger  and the, I’ve already taken two to the face and I didn’t think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.

Michael Brown Jr.

To show such utter disrespect towards a police officer is one thing. But to have the insanity to charge an armed police officer after being shot is something completely different. According to Wilson, Brown was about eight to ten feet away from the cruiser when he turned around to charge. Eye witnesses claimed that Brown was about twenty feet in front of Wilson when he shot him. Brown turned around and began raising his arms, telling Wilson that he was unarmed and to stop shooting. Stumbling forward, Brown finally collapsed after Wilson shot him in the head.

Brown’s body sprawled on the hot Missouri pavement.

Officer Wilson’s testimony essentially depicts Michael Brown as a disrespectful thug with a death wish, which completely contradicts what we know of him. Is that to say Brown was angel, or a perfect human being who couldn’t possibly cause any harm to even a fly? No, of course not. It does say that Brown must have acted in a manner completely opposite of how normal humans who are not on PCP/methamphetamine act in order for Wilson’s testimony to be 100% true. A toxicology report done during Browns autopsy revealed that the only thing in his system was weed. I can safely assure our readers that the ingestion of marijuana does not cause behaviors like that.

In his first media interview after the jury found no reasonable cause to press charges, Wilson told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he’s sorry for what he did but that “…the reason I have a clean conscience is that I know I did my job right.” Wilson essentially stated the problem that plagues American police. It’s not a case of an isolated officer doing something wrong; a simple Google search will show you otherwise. Rather, abuse of power and brutality are called for in a police officer’s job description. Many police officers are trained to shoot to kill rather than try to incapacitate them with mace or a stun gun. Officer Wilson did not carry any alternative to his gun.

Wilson was never fired from his position in the Ferguson police department, he was simply placed on administrative leave. Pending the conclusion of an internal investigation, he’s still technically on the Ferguson police force. But of course, when the police investigate themselves, we should take their conclusions with a grain of salt. Rumors are going around that Wilson and the Ferguson police department are working on his resignation.

The racist undertones under the entire situation are obvious and difficult to ignore. The media portrayal of protests only further fueled this belief. While looting and destruction of property were sparse, the media seemed to focus on those isolated events rather than the mass peaceful protests. Protesters even linked arms around a storefront to prevent it from being looted. But of course, the media much rather focus on footage of buildings on fire because it helps boost their ratings.

Juxtaposition.

The racist undertones were further propagated by the internet vigilante group Anonymous’s announcement that they had taken over the biggest Ku Klux Klan Twitter account. Anonymous did this after the KKK launched threats towards the peaceful protesters in Ferguson, claiming that they would use deadly force against them. In taking over the KKK’s Twitter account, Anonymous learned the identities of many high-ranking members of the Klan. They made the revelation that there is a connection between members of the KKK and the Ferguson police department.

Just by looking at the demographics of Ferguson and the demographics of the Ferguson police department, one can see a potential source of trouble. 67% of the population is black, but less than one percent of the police force is. The racial disparity is not specific to just Ferguson; various police departments across the United States underrepresent minorities in their ranks. This divide obviously causes tension and misunderstandings between police forces and the people they’re supposed to be protecting and serving.

The racial disparity was also prevalent in the grand jury. From the very beginning, many were calling for prosecutor McCulloch to step down from the case and appoint a special prosecutor because of a belief that McCulloch could not be partial. After all, his dad, a white police officer, was shot and killed when a black man took his gun. This, on top of the fact that many of McCulloch’s family members work in the police force made people think he was unfit to try the case in a fair manner.

McCulloch’s record with cases dealing with police officers has also been rather strange. In 2000, a police officer and an undercover DEA agent shot and killed two unarmed black males in the parking lot of a Jack In the Box. The officer and agent told a grand jury convened by McCulloch that the two men were attempting to get away and drove the car towards the officers so they shot at the men 21 times. The jury did not indict the men. MucColloch told the public that every eye witness corroborated the officer’s testimony. However, a secret grand jury tape was uncovered in which only three of the thirteen officers on sight said that the car was moving forward. A federal investigation revealed that the men inside the car were unarmed and that the car did not move forward at all. The investigation also concluded that the officers acted within their rights as they feared for their lives. McCulloch went on draw controversy from this case when he said “these guys were bums” in reference to the two black males.

Robert McCulloch

During the Ferguson case, McCulloch did something that was quite unorthodox for a prosecutor to do during the grand jury stage. Instead of only releasing some evidence, McCulloch decided to release it all, even evidence that hurt his case. Every witness and expert testimony as well as every little piece of evidence. By doing so, the grand jury essentially tried Darren Wilson instead of decide whether he should face trial or not. Some of his critics believe he did this in an attempt to put as little effort into the case but make it appear to the public that he did everything in his power to get a conviction. The composition of the grand jury didn’t help the case either; only three of the twelve members were black. The grand jury only needed nine jurors to agree with the verdict in order for it to pass.

But this has far surpassed being a race issue. It is no longer a black vs. white issue, it is the citizens of the United States vs. the boys in blue. The races could have been switched: Brown could have been white and Wilson could have been black, but the fact stills stands. A police officer, someone who took an oath to protect and serve his community, killed an unarmed man, something that happens way too often in America. Whether or not Brown stole the cigarillos is irrelevant to his death; as an American citizen, Brown deserved due process; he was denied that by Officer Wilson.

The release of the grand jury’s decision and subsequent reaction by protesters eclipsed another fatal police shooting on November 23. A 12-year-old boy was gunned down by Cleveland police after a man called 911 to report that the boy had a gun. While talking to the dispatcher, the caller says he’s unsure if the gun is real or not. The police show up a short while later and less than two seconds after they show up, shoot and kill the boy. The city of Cleveland released the video of the moments leading up to the kid’s death. In the video, one can see the boy prancing near a gazebo in what appears to be a park. He examines the toy gun, which didn’t have the orange safety tip, a couple times and plays with it. The man can be seen on the phone in the gazebo. When the police show up, the boy does not appear to brandish or point the weapon at the officers. The video has no sound so it’s hard to tell whether the police gave him any verbal commands before opening fire.

12-year-old Tamir Rice.

The problem is not just the police, but the justice system as well. How can we expect to seek justice and accountability when the system is built to favor the officers? Having a police badge in America is essentially the same as as having a license to kill. One could see this by looking at the extremely low number of indictments of police officers vs. the number of people they shoot/otherwise injure.

Where is the accountability? How many more unarmed people will have to die at the hands of police officers until we realize it’s time for change? How much further into a police state will the United States descend before her citizens wake up?

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3 thoughts on “The Burning South

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