By Anna Daniels
It came as no surprise when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown this past August.
Ferguson’s African American residents expected the announcement, the local and state government was preparing for it and arrangements were made well in advance for the local, national and international media to cover it.
Since August,the St. Louis police force has been stocking up on riot gear in anticipation of the announcement. Last week Missouri governor Jay Nixon declared a preemptive state of emergency. Since August, Ferguson’s residents–Ferguson’s African American residents specifically– have been asked or told to behave themselves.
That message of how to behave has been delivered by a variety of voices and the medium has indeed become the message. Michael Brown’s parents released this statement last night, after the McCulloch’s announcement:
We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.
While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.
Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.
We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.
Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.
Governor Jay Nixon’s response to questions about his decision to declare a state of emergency was largely incoherent:
I’m trying to make sure that, that we move forward in a predictable, peaceful manner that plans for all contingencies that might occur, so that people of a disparate group of opinions and actions can be heard, while at the same time, the property and persons, person, persons of people in the St Louis region are protected. So I, it … I, I, prefer not to be a commentator on it. I’m making decisions as, in a, you know, to make sure that we’re all prepared for all contingencies, and I think this is another step, positive, you know, positive, predictable step towards preparing for any contingencies.
What appeared missing from his calculations was that there was never a substantive plan to address the way black residents felt about Michael Brown’s death and what it conveyed about their relationship with the Ferguson police force, or their feelings about the militarized police response to the protests in August, the violation of their civil liberties and limitations on press access.
President Obama’s speech last night was disappointingly flat. He acknowledged the “frustrations” of Ferguson residents who remain unconvinced that justice was served and asked them to peacefully and responsibly exercise the right to express themselves. Obama’s acknowledgement was devoid of any indication of his own experiences as a black man in the United States and that was not accidental.
Last night, made for TV theater unfolded in Ferguson. The plot had been decided upon well in advance by the Ferguson and St. Louis police, by Governor Nixon and the media. The issues of structural racism in Ferguson and across the whole country were avoided completely. Instead we were asked to do little more than to sit around in our living rooms and watch how black people behaved and how the police responded. This appalling construct will be discussed across the ideological spectrum as if it were the only story.
Of course it isn’t the only story. Congress has been incapable of passing a bill to demilitarize the police, despite the national outcry against the militarized use of force in Ferguson this past August. The lived experience of black residents in Ferguson goes largely unnoticed.
African-Americans in St. Louis are 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed, a larger racial gap in unemployment than all but three other metro regions. St. Louis County has some of the greatest disparities in public education in the country. In fact, children in Canfield Green, where Michael Brown was killed, don’t even attend school in Ferguson — which is an underfunded but accredited school system. Instead they go to the underfunded and unaccredited Riverview Gardens district, which is 98 percent African-American.
The Salt Lake City Tribune recently released a report that killings by Utah police outpace gang, drug and child-abuse homicides. Jamelle Bouie describes why Darren Wilson was never going to be indicted for killing Michael Brown.
The judicial system as we’ve constructed it just isn’t equipped—or even willing—to hold officers accountable for shootings and other offenses. Or put differently, the simple fact is that the police can kill for almost any reason with little fear of criminal charges.
Scenes of destruction in Ferguson will be played and re-played for audiences across the country until Black Friday shopping pushes all else to the margins. In the interim, we will see videos of hurled bricks, billowing smoke, a car on fire and shattered glass. We will have personal feelings about the behaviors that resulted in these scenes. We will be asked yet again to come together and heal as a society.
The call to come together and heal is a puny hollow effort, no matter how well intentioned. A fire has been burning under the abandoned mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania since 1962, when a coal vein under an open mine pit was accidentally ignited. “The fire crawled, insidiously, along coal-rich deposits far from the miner’s pick, venting hot and poisonous gases up into town, through the basements of homes and businesses.” Residents were re-located. This fire will probably continue to burn for the next 250 years.
The shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman became a flash point for this country’s racialized policies. Critiques of stand your ground and stop and frisk laws and the unequal incarceration rates of African Americans have gained only minimal media attention. Beneath these latest manifestations of unequal treatment and justice denied lies the dark vein of our segregated past that has restricted equal access to housing, education and employment.
Images of a burning car in Ferguson are a misleading representation of what has gone wrong in that quintessentially American town. There is little context provided about the open pit, the dark ancient vein beneath it and what smolders there.
November 25 San Diego Demonstrations in Response to the Missouri Grand Jury Decision
Downtown: 5:30- 7-30 pm Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building at 880 Front St
City Heights: 6:00 pm City Heights/Weingart Library and Performance Annex at 3795 Fairmount Ave.