The Fury in Ferguson: Quest and Question of Justice
Sometimes events happen in faraway places that impact how we live and how we feel in our very own hometowns. All eyes have been focused on Ferguson, Mo., as millions of Americans try to figure out what the 21st century definition of “justice” really is. To this point, I yield my space this week to someone who can speak to that subject.
Ferguson, Mo., erupted onto the American conscience on Aug. 9, when an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a police officer with the Ferguson Police Department. That Brown was black and Wilson is white, arguably, is no less important to the narrative than the facts leading up to Brown’s killing. That is true in part because of the existing poor relations between the black public and their police department at the time of Brown’s death, and made worse after white police officers let Brown’s dead, blood-soaked body remain on full display, in the middle of the street, for several hours, while concealing for a week the identity of the white officer who had killed the teen after shooting him six times, twice in the head. The racial flames were further fanned by the account of several eye witnesses who said the unarmed teen had raised his hands in the universal symbol of surrender, while pleading with Officer Wilson not to shoot. And notwithstanding the relevance and importance of those accounts, inexplicably, the Ferguson Police Department chose not to interview the alleged witnesses regarding their statements.
Understandably, not unlike the citizens of Ferguson, every other reasonable, rational person on the planet would be hard-pressed to reconcile why investigators would not, well, investigate, which, by definition, would have to include speaking with every person who may have seen or heard anything concerning the cause and circumstances that resulted in Brown’s death. That no such reasonably hoped-for investigation occurred only solidified in the minds and hearts of Ferguson’s already disaffected black citizenry that there would be no justice. And, correctly, the Ferguson Police Department reasonably anticipated there would be no peace, but, as a precaution, incorrectly made containment a priority rather than transparency and due process
.What followed were the unconstrained emotions that can and often do flow from the feeling of being yet again violated, devalued and victimized by a long-term foe, in this case, the police. Blacks and their historical relationship to police brutality necessarily conjures up the painful 1960s images of Birmingham’s so-called Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, police attack dogs, night sticks and powerful fire hoses that conspired, with impunity, to terrorize black men, women and children. The anticipation of perennial impunity for perceived police misconduct is the fuel that precipitates — though it does not excuse — the violence and property damage that often occurs during these tragic times.
Ferguson’s blacks and whites comprise 63 percent and 33 percent of the population, respectively. And yet, there are only three black officers out of the 53 commissioned officers on the Ferguson Police Department. That blacks account for 86 percent (12percent for whites) of all traffic stops, and 92 percent of all arrests (7 percent for whites) creates more than enough suspicious fodder that white police officers target black drivers (and in Brown’s case, pedestrians) and reserve for them a special brand of policing, which almost a 100 percent of the time leads to their arrest (and in Brown’s case, death).
While not a failsafe, diversity in such important entities as police departments can indicate the presence of equality and justice, or at least, the potential for it. And such diversity can, as amongst the police and those they pledge to protect and serve, boost morale, trust and a willingness to work collaboratively to solve common community concerns. Conversely, where, as here, the disaffected black community does not perceive even an appearance of equality and justice, common to all, and where, as here, there is not even enough of a diverse police workforce to achieve plausible deniability around the question of unequal treatment under the law, each inevitable citizen and cop conflict will only be aggravated and inflamed by the understandable lack of confidence those citizens will have in law enforcement’s capacity and willingness to resolve conflicts transparently and fairly.
Finally, whether or not the fury in Ferguson will reside or rage on, or whether or not the intense quest for, and question of justice will be realized, remains to be seen. But whatever the revelation, it will be “social-vized” on Facebook and Twitter. As such, the world will know the truth, but the truth will make no one free, unless, good men and women affirmatively refuse to allow evil to further triumph.
Photo: Michael Brown