A Sad Night in America

Last night was disheartening all around and may have been doomed to be so. Tonight may not be much better, except with more National Guard and fewer buildings to burn.

Coming from a family of civil servants, I have an innate tendency to give police officers the benefit of the doubt in such situations. We ask police to do the work of keeping our streets safe, which can include not a small degree of confrontation and violence. If that's the deal the larger society has made, is it fair to pull the rug out when something goes south, as it inevitably will from time to time? 

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Trouble is the unwritten agreement I refer to—you protect us from crime and we'll stand by you during a potential prosecution—may not be operable in some parts of American society. It is certainly not how the "deal" is perceived within New York's "stop and frisk" communities or in small towns such as Ferguson where vast racial imbalances exist between the resident population and the police force—and worse, where police departments micro-fund their budgets by daily ticketing and needling of the community they are supposed to protect and serve. Here residents not only don't feel protected by police, they feel persecuted by them.

Unfortunately it is not irrational for them to feel that way. According to an analysis of fatal police shootings, conducted by public interest investigators at ProPublica, African American teens and young men were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts—in fact at 21 times a greater risk. ProPublica reports: "The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police."

That galling discrepancy has played out in recent months since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson on several awful occasions, the worst among them have to be the “BB gun” shootings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford, both in Ohio. In both instances police officers were operating on admittedly misleading or incomplete reports from 911 calls and confronting young African American males “armed” with nonlethal BB guns; Crawford’s was off the shelf in a Walmart store. It is deeply troubling to consider that both of these young men would be alive and preparing for a Thanksgiving meal with their families this week had they been white, but there is no getting around that likelihood.

I was hoping Darren Wilson's testimony could clear things up for me as a citizen concerned that an unarmed teenager with his whole life ahead of him could be gunned down in the street. Contradictory accounts from witnesses outside the immediate scuffle zone give Wilson's testimony some credence. He could be, as many protestors believe, a convincing testi-liar or he could be a police officer in a bad situation who made a tough call. That may not be what the crowd is willing to hear today, but it may be closest to the truth.

That doesn’t mean that there is no reason to be concerned about this police killing and others like it. Perhaps Wilson had just cause, perhaps his life was in danger, perhaps he had little other choice but to fire in a split-second decision I will never have to make. But what role did poor training, racial profiling, unspoken—and unknown to the public—rules of policing, even Wilson’s own anger and pride play in his fatal meeting with Michael Brown? 

Because of the perplexing manner this grand jury was conducted there will be no trial in St. Louis County that may have helped us answer a few of those questions.

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ed gleason
3 years 10 months ago
The St Louis prosecutor McCulloch should have recused himself... His father was killed by an African American and he could have had a three month vacation with pay. Had he recused himself the mistrust would have been reduced by 90% in MHO. But no.. so I say he is responsible for 90% of the distruction and further suffering. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120422/bob-mcculloch-abused-grand-jury-process-ferguson . http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120422/bob-mcculloch-abused-grand-jury-process-ferguson
Bob Baker
3 years 10 months ago
That is a sad reflection on American justice, especially when the jury was made up of a good cross-section of the populace and it means that you, and others, think that the twelve people are so ignorant that they couldn't make a good, honest decision. The violence was expected by almost everyone. The burning and looting were expected by everyone. All of this was an excuse to cause problems within cities across the country. The destruction and suffering were caused primarily by youth who obviously lacked a solid background in decency and in respecting others. This was not a spur of the moment reaction, but a deliberate act of violence. The words of peace in the community went unheard because that is not what these people wanted to hear.
ed gleason
3 years 10 months ago
Your accessment that a strip mall being sacked in Ferguson seems to be your biggest take away from police over reaction nationally, while confronting African Americans in many cities. This explains your mindset which you seem to take pride in. .
Mary Keane
3 years 10 months ago
Your thinking, such as it is, is but an extension of the narcissism that rules in our declining age. Only one with experience (the 'right' kind, of course) is capable of assessing a situation, and no person who has had misfortune in life may be adult enough to be objective.
Joseph J Dunn
3 years 10 months ago
For a legal analysis, see here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/11/26/officer-wilson-had-a-powerful-case-for-self-defense-under-missouri-law/.
Dawn Tedrow
3 years 10 months ago
The case should have gone to trial. If an unarmed white boy had been shot six times by a frightened police officer, it would have gone to trial, no matter how disrespectful the boy had been.
Joseph J Dunn
3 years 10 months ago
"Because of the perplexing manner this grand jury was conducted there will be no trial in St. Louis County that may have helped us answer a few of those questions." The legal analysis published in the Washington Post informs us regarding the reasons why the grand jury, under long-established Missouri law, became the fact-finding venue as soon as "self-defense" became an issue in this homicide case. As the analysis (by an attorney) makes clear, in Missouri the "self-defense" issue had to be reviewed AS PART OF A PROBABLE CAUSE DETERMINATION, made by either a judge in a preliminary hearing, or by a grand jury. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/11/26/officer-wilson-had-a-powerful-case-for-self-defense-under-missouri-law/. There is also a link to the entire body of grand jury testimony: http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/ferguson/2014/11/25/ferguson-grand-jury-documents/70100296/ Before any of us who are not professionally competent in Missouri law and omniscient regarding the event comment on the "perplexing manner (of) this grand jury" or second-guess the DA's method, or reject the decision of 12 grand jurors (ordinary citizens, who had as a grand jury the power of subpoena and who asked (as recorded in the transcripts) their own sometimes penetrating questions of various witnesses and of Officer Wilson, we ought to use these valuable resources. Failing to do so is, itself, a vast injustice. This injustice dismisses the written statutes of a sovereign state, the independence of its courts, the honorable service of twelve grand jurors. It prolongs the grief of a neighborhood. It feeds the tempers of those who set fire to a city. It promotes the substitution of stereotypes, rumors and OpEd pieces for evidence and sworn testimony and careful deliberation. It slows the healing of a troubled nation. Surely, in this journal, we can work for justice.
Patrick Monagle
3 years 10 months ago
Michael Brown never had a chance. He was a young black male, one of the most dangerous and life threatening things one could be in America. It should be no surprise that the justice system failed to indict a white police officer. Our country has a history of injustices against minorities, especially young black males. After slavery ended, the white man needed a way to control the savage black man and prevent the black man from supposedly be able to rape his wife and kill his family. The white community replaced slavery with lynching. James Cone discusses the lynching tree in his book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” and the injustices that blacks faced on a daily basis. James argues that blacks were always guilty until proven innocent, if they were lucky enough to, make a case for themselves. Black men were forced to deal with the daily fear of being wrongly accused of a crime and later hung up on a tree and killed without a fair trial or any real government protection. Rather than put an end to all mob violence and help the black community, the government enforced Jim Crow laws which added that much more difficulty to the daily lives of black men and women. The racism that is present in today’s society is more hidden, but nonetheless real. Today’s racism is found in the structures and institutions. Today’s racism is built into the very fabric of society. It can be seen when a black family applies for a mortgage at a bank and is denied. Racism can be found in disproportionate criminal conviction in communities of color. Racism can be found in both higher and lower education. The officer involved in the shooting had an entire system protecting him. This is not to say that he should or should not have shot Michael Brown, it may have been necessary in order to protect himself. Regardless, the officer had a system that favored his kind in order to protect himself. - VUpm
Tim O'Leary
3 years 10 months ago
It is always terrible when a life is lost, but it does appear from the evidence that the 300 lb Brown was intent on resisting arrest for his theft and on inflicting injury the police officer. The evidence indicates he was the aggressor, punching the police officer in his car and trying to get his gun (bruises on the cop's neck, Brown's blood inside the vehicle) and then turning on the officer when he gave chase, which was completely right given the aggression of Brown, for the sake of the community. There is also no evidence that race played any part in the motivation of the police officer to arrest him or to protect himself from the aggression. It is sad that selective use of statistics and the media always try to turn these cases into racial cases. I think even counting statistics by race only inflames racial tensions, as if the goal was to "keep racism alive." In the same 2010-2012 period, there were, in Chicago alone, 1430 homicides (20% White). The perpetrators are overwhelming black. http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/
Robert O'Connell
3 years 10 months ago
Right now I think we are reaping some of the consequences of a "benign neglect" notion often attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, long before he became a Snator. I believe he meant something different at the time, but in the year following the riots that broke out after Martin Luther King was murdered, Moynihan espoused the idea that rhetoric about alleged defects in African-American urbarn communities -- where riots and violence prevailed -- ought not be talked about so much as was done by people like Spiro Agnew. As I recall, he was trying to discourage race-related rhetoric. What surprises me most is how Detroit, the west side of Chicago and so many other areas where poverty and alienation prevail are not included when the federal government spends money to have stuff manufactured by federal contractors. Are young African Americans getting killed in areas of low unemployment? Are they disproportionately involved with police activity of any sort in such areas? Are cops really the problem? That seems to me to be a distraction from the real problems of urban poverty and segregation.
J Cabaniss
3 years 10 months ago
Your citation of the ProPublica Report is disappointing. It is an indication that you found a report that supported your conclusion rather than looked for one that really explained what is happening. I checked a BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics) analysis of arrest related deaths (ARD) from 2003-2009 and found that the likelihood of being killed by the police was almost the same for blacks (61.3%) as whites (60.9%). It is very likely that the huge discrepancy between this report and ProPublica is that they tailored their report of ARD to 15-19 year olds. Given that there are fewer overall victims at that age level, any percentage discrepancy is magnified. They created a report to tell a particular story; apparently the same story you wanted to tell. The fact that it is a false and grossly misleading story seems not to matter. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ard0309st.pdf (table 7)
Kevin Clarke
3 years 10 months ago

Thanks for sharing the BJS report. It's true I did not appreciate the rhetorical impact of ProPublica limiting its analysis to 15-19 age bracket. I'll be continuting to study this problem of course.

John Corr
3 years 10 months ago
This is a classic example of suggesting undocumented conclusions. I would expect to find something like this on HuffPost.
Mary Keane
3 years 10 months ago
Agreed. In addition, wondering why the grand jury must be maligned. Waiting for America and other publications to cover the lives of the persons who lost their businesses and livelihoods because the grand jury did not indict.

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