Ferguson burns and Wilson walks

As we waited for the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County to reveal the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision in the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, declared a state of emergency and called up the National Guard, in advance of that news. Even the Los Angeles Police Department said it was preparing for riots in relation to the Ferguson grand jury. We can assume every police department in the country was on heightened alert, if their communities had large minority populations.

The police came prepared. (Facebook meme)
The police came prepared.
(Facebook meme)

Attorney General Eric Holder was pissed off at Governor Nixon for calling out the National Guard. It set the wrong tone, as did the governor’s press conference. The Gov. may be a Democrat, but he knows who butters his political toast — the white folks who are irrationally afraid of the African-American community.

So: remember Watts? And Detroit, Milwaukee, Washington, DC, Baltimore — how about April 4, 1968?

More recently, here in Los Angeles, the White police officers were acquitted of all charges for beating Rodney King and South Central L.A. exploded. My god! They might riot their way right up to Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

  • Of course there are some who believe Hollyweird needs an emergency makeover. But that’s a story for a different day.

So, being the governor of a state that relies primarily on White voters, regardless of party affiliation, you have to play to their fears. And the fear was that protestors, primarily African-Americans, would explode and set the town on fire. The mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles III, said he is expecting some “unrest.” Of course you did — you knew what was coming from the grand jury.

For weeks we were told the grand jury was about to release it’s decision. For weeks the family of Michael Brown, Jr., and all their supporters, were waiting for the moment someone would tell them the announcement was about to be made.

Friday, November 21 came and we were told the grand jury would not have a decision before Monday, yesterday, November 24. Over the weekend crowds began to assemble in front of the Ferguson police department to protest, peacefully, but angry and for some, filled with a smoldering rage.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Michael Brown in widely circulated photo
Michael Brown in widely circulated photo

There are two distinct levels of justice in America. One of White people — unless it’s poor White people — and one for minorities, Blacks in particular. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or is completely off in a deep fantasy. A kid walking around with a toy gun is shot and killed by a police officer and we get the equivalent of an “Oops.” A kid talking on a cell phone in Wal-Mart picks up a pellet gun off the shelf and walks around talking and another patron calls 9-1-1 and says a Black man is walking around Wal-Mart pointing a gun at people. He gets shot, while talking on the phone and it gets dismissed with another “Oops.” Michael Brown, unarmed, gets shot while walking down the street being Black and (we find out later) for stealing a pack of cigar-like cigarettes.

All three were basically unarmed, unless you call toy and pellet guns weapons. All three were gunned down by police, primarily White cops. Over in Bunkerville, Nevada, we have this White rancher who is mooching off the government by grazing his cattle on federal land without paying the fees. He and his supporters, all armed with actual guns, face down federal law enforcement and, there on television broadcasts across the land we see some of these White folks pointing these loaded firearms at the federal law enforcement officials.

Were any of those people, who were clearly breaking the law, shot and killed? How about arrested? Nope. Every one of them got a walk. Cliven Bundy is still in Bunkerville regaling anyone who will listen to his story of how he beat the government.

What does that have to do with Ferguson? Shouldn’t we compare arrest records in St. Louis County?

The double standard legal system is endemic across America. It was even official in New York City when Mayor Mike Bloomberg instituted “stop and frisk,” a policy that allowed police to stop anyone anywhere in New York City and frisk them — without any cause, probable or otherwise. Just walking down the street being Black was probable cause.

Trayvon Martin … walking through the neighborhood where his father lives, eating Skittles, is stalked by an armed White man who finally picks a fight with the teen and in the process shoots the kid, killing him. George Zimmerman went to trial over it, but the prosecutors were less than zealous and Zimmerman got a walk.

  • How odd that most of what preceded the actually fight was excluded from the trial. The jury couldn’t use the evidence about Zimmerman stalking Martin and that he was doing so, even after the 9-1-1 operator told him not to do that. Why couldn’t they weigh that evidence when rendering a decision on Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence?

It’s a two-tier, double standard legal system.

President Obama gave a statement shortly after the decision was made public. It was fairly neutral, but he obviously was disappointed. “First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. So we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.” (YouTube)
President Obama gave a statement shortly after the decision was made public. It was fairly neutral, but he obviously was disappointed.
“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. So we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

So Monday rolls up and it is announced at around 2 p.m. local time the grand jury had a decision and the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch would reveal that decision at 8 p.m. local time.

Um … why the six-hour delay? Why wait for crowds to gather in Ferguson and Clayton, the nearby town where the decision was revealed? Why give millions of people across America six hours to anticipate this decision? Why announced the decision at night when the crowds would be at their most agitated state?

Every prosecutor polled said waiting six hours was unheard of, even “suspect.” Government business was — is — conducted during normal business hours, with rare exceptions. Just try to get anything done at any County Government office anywhere in America at 8 p.m. The offices close at 5 p.m. and in some places, 4 or 4:30 p.m. There was no logical reason for Robert McCulloch to wait six hours to deliver the bad news. Well, it’s obviously good news for officer Darren Wilson and his family and friends, but for equal justice in America it was business as usual — bad news.

Business as usual at an unusual time. No one disputes law enforcement officers have a tough job. No one disputes young Black men can get violent. But we can say that about every ethnic group. Young White men and Asians and Hispanics, can be violent. And it’s pretty clear Michael Brown, Jr. shoplifted at the convenience store. There’s no denying the video.

If Michael Brown, Jr. committed that crime he should have been arrested and charged. If he resisted arrest by Officer Wilson, he should have been charged with that crime as well. Let’s not sugarcoat Michael Brown, Jr. A lot of us have been arrested before, for crimes ranging from shoplifting to driving under the influence to more serious crimes. I knew a guy who was awaiting trial for trying to rob a liquor store while in his UPS uniform, with his UPS truck parked outside. They guy had a serious drinking problem. He eventually took his own life.

The point being, Michael Brown, Jr. was like every other person I’ve ever met: flawed. But we all have people who love us anyway, despite our flaws and we tend to only see the bright sides of our loved ones when they get in trouble.

The other, more important point is this: did Michael Brown, Jr. deserve to die for robbing a convenience store and resisting arrest?

Ferguson burned. Gun shots, over a hundred, were heard in Ferguson after the prosecutor’s statement. (YouTube)
Ferguson burned. Gun shots, over a hundred, were heard in Ferguson after the prosecutor’s statement.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Everyone questioned the prosecutor’s motives — as they have from the beginning of this sad and enraging case. Three months ago it was strongly suggested he step aside and let someone else, a special prosecutor, take the case, but Robert McCulloch refused. If he let an impartial prosecutor take over then there was a chance Darren Wilson would be indicted.

When a prosecutor convenes a grand jury to decide the merits of bringing a case before the courts, he or she does so zealously to prove there is probable cause to have a person appear before a jury of their peers to answer for the allegations. It is then the prosecutor’s job to convince that jury, beyond reasonable doubt, the defendant is guilty.

Robert McCulloch didn’t do that. He instructed his assistants to show both sides of the case, something unheard of in the annals of prosecuting cases. If you’re a prosecutor you want that grand jury to come back with an indictment, as quickly as possible. You don’t put every witness before the grand jury, just the ones that support your charges.

There was conflicting testimony. Okay, name one case ever that didn’t have conflicting testimony. Prosecutors bring cases to trial every day with conflicting testimony. Prosecutors get convictions, some resulting in death sentences, with conflicting and often false testimony. For more than two decades now human rights organizations have been getting people convicted of serious crimes exonerated and released from prison — from death row — because the actual physical evidence, DNA, proved the evidence and testimony brought to trial was false. Eyewitness testimony is very often unreliable, but prosecutors have no problem putting these witnesses on the stand, if it will support their case. They do it every day.

When prosecutors want to, they can get a case in front of a judge and jury. That is the operative statement: if they want to get the case in front of a judge and jury.

Obviously Robert McCulloch did not want to put Darren Wilson on trial. Had he wanted to do that McCulloch could have skipped the grand jury and just filed charges, just like he did with the grand jury. Everything from first-degree murder to the most minor of manslaughter charges.

Looters invade an O’Reilly’s auto parts store during the riots in Ferguson. (YouTube)
Looters invade an O’Reilly’s auto parts store during the riots in Ferguson.

But Robert McCulloch wasn’t going to put a police officer on trial for anything, especially a cop serving in Ferguson, MO., a community that is 60 percent African-American. St. Louis County wasn’t going to be the first community to have a cop convicted of killing a kid for being Black. It didn’t happen in Beavercreek, Ohio when police officers shot and killed John Crawford III for shopping in Wal-Mart while being Black and it didn’t happen in Cleveland, OH when 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed for having a toy gun. So it damn sure wasn’t going to happen in Ferguson, MO.

It’s a good time to remind people that those White people in Bunkerville, NV who actually threatened federal law enforcement with loaded firearms didn’t even get detained, let alone arrested or shot.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Officer Darren Wilson claims he had probable cause for shooting and killing Michael Brown. Even though Brown’s body was found 130 feet from his police vehicle, a Chevy SUV. He said Brown was charging at him, even after being shot. Wilson claimed the unarmed teenager was reaching into his waistband. Brown was unarmed so why would he do that? Maybe he needed to pull up his pants. It’s hard to run with your pants falling down. Maybe young Michael Brown, Jr. had to scratch his balls.

Oh yeah, Officer Wilson gave testimony to the grand jury. The possible defendant appearing before the grand jury?

The physical evidence didn’t support the testimony of some witnesses. Michael Brown, Jr. was not shot in the back — we knew that months ago after Dr. Michael Baden’s autopsy findings were revealed.

A building burns in Ferguson. (YouTube)
A building burns in Ferguson.


It’s no surprise that few people in America expected the grand jury to come back with an indictment. Missouri had the right prosecutor to make sure of that. What no one expected was a delay until the evening to announce the decision; they didn’t expect Robert McCulloch to enflame the situation with his announcement, which CNN legal analyst Jeffery Toobin called, “an extended whine.”

McCulloch lashed out at the press and social media, claiming we were responsible for the violence and general unrest in Ferguson. He went on for nearly 45 minutes, briefly extending condolences to the family of Brown and then detailing what the grand jury had found and then launching into his diatribe against the press and social media.

It was as if he was inviting the agitated protestors to respond angrily and violently. The various state and local governments knew there would be no indictment, which is why they ordered up the National Guard and got the militarized police vehicles and riot weapons parked and ready for action.

Seasons Greetings! (YouTube)
Seasons Greetings!

Within minutes of McCulloch and the grand jury giving Officer Wilson a pass, people in Ferguson got violent. First some police cars were torched and then some buildings. One report said a dozen buildings went up in flames last night. Twenty-nine people were arrested.

The quick response is to condemn the violence and loss of property. There are more fruitful ways to get justice. But after centuries of being treated as second-class citizens, some people expressed their rage with acts of violence.

But it’s hard for me to condemn these people, although I feel sadness for the folks who lost their life’s work because their liquor store, or butcher shop, was looted and burned to the ground. They didn’t deserve to be treated that way.

The violence should have been directed at the state and local officials who choreographed this charade. Robert McCulloch should be one of the people afraid to appear in public today. And the mayor and governor, the guy who shrugged his shoulders and basically said, “I don’t know,” when asked why they waited until the evening to announce the grand jury’s decision. He just pointed his finger at McCulloch.

“I’m only the governor, I don’t know anything! That’s why you elected me governor!”

Street memorial for Michael Brown, Jr. (Wikipedia)
Street memorial for Michael Brown, Jr.

Violence is never the answer, but it can be the jumping off point to get things changed. But that won’t happen in Missouri because now the focus isn’t on McCulloch’s well-played farce to keep Officer Wilson out of the courtroom. It’s on the violence that followed the announcement — and that’s why officials waited until 8 p.m. to let the rest of us know, officially, they were giving Officer Darren Wilson a walk. Now people are talking about the violence and unrest in Ferguson, instead of why an unarmed Black man was gunned down by a police officer and his lifeless body left on display in the street for four hours.

Governor Nixon declared a state of emergency because he wanted to prove African-Americans are violent thugs. He knew exactly how and when this was going to end. And by god Missouri wasn’t going to be the first state to indict and convict a cop for killing a kid for being Black.

It’s the American Way.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

An update as of November 26, 2014:
The violence and rioting in Ferguson needs to stop. No one is served by it and it only adds ammunition to those who see no wrong doing on the part of the police and local officials and put all the blame on the African-American community. “His parents should have brought him up better,” and worse. Now it appears the Governor of Missouri and the Mayor of Ferguson were justified in declaring a state emergency and calling on the National Guard a week before the announcement. The rioters and looters proved their point.

But most of all the rioting, violence and destruction of property hurts the members of the community, the people who live there and own or use those businesses — and the church where Michael Brown’s family worshiped.  Stop destroying your own community. Use that rage to change the system, with non-violent methods.

Stop hurting your neighbors.