By Alan King
On the Verdict Surrounding the Death of Michael Brown
I apologize in advance for the length of this post. However, I find myself distracted this holiday by the events surrounding the death ofMichael Brown and the failure to even subject the circumstances surrounding his death to a trial. In these moments, just as with the O.J. Simpson and Trayvon Martin verdicts, we are reminded of the deep divide between blacks and whites (not all, but many) in America. And in the 19 years since the Simpson verdict, nothing has really changed. Since the founding of this nation, one could argue, nothing has really changed.
While these are complicated issues clouded by each person’s life experiences, I have been struck over the last few days by many comments from even my own non-black friends and FB friends to the effect that “justice was served” in the decision not to even hold a trial to examine the legality of officer Darren Wilson’s conduct in connection with the death of Michael Brown. The Grand Jury proceeding was, of course, simply a process to determine whether there was enough evidence, enough of a question, simply to hold a trial to determine officer Wilson’s guilt or innocence. For most black people, and I would imagine many whites, the appropriateness of at least a trial to closely examine these events was clear from the moment we heard even the sketchy details of an unarmed black teenager being gunned downed in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, by a police officer of any color. So why was it so easy for the mostly white Grand Jurors, and for many other whites, to accept that Darren Wilson was telling the truth in his testimony, and thus that justice was served?
Well, my answer is that he is a cop and he is white. And perhaps more importantly, Michael Brown wasn’t. Generally speaking, I have great respect for police officers and appreciate what they do for us every day. However, I also know full well from my life experiences–both personal and professional (I often represent police officers and police departments in civil litigation, often against other police officers)–that some police officers aren’t fit for the job, routinely abuse their authority, lie with ease when they testify under oath, and in some cases are criminals themselves. So when I hear officer Wilson’s testimony that an unarmed black teenager, with no criminal record and who was apparently not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, walked up to his squad car and without any life-threatening provocation, punched the officer in the face and tried to grab his gun, my life experiences tell me immediately that such a story is so fantastic that it hardly merits serious consideration. Particularly when told without any corroboration by the person trying to save his own skin. I suppose there’s some chance that this fantastic tale is true, but even then it doesn’t explain the necessity of the multiple additional shots, including the kill shot to the young man’s head. But these questions, these reasonable doubts, are what trials are for. Instead, based apparently on the life experiences of these jurors and probably half of the country, that story “sounded pretty reasonable to me.” To which I would ask, if you believe Michael Brown would do that, do you also believe an unarmed white teenager with no criminal record would do that? How about your son?
I also believe those jurors wanted to send this nice young man, officer Wilson, home to his family. After all, in their experiences, “officer friendly” stands for good. He protects us and always tells the truth. I would submit that Michael Brown’s life and freedom, and that of his grieving family, was not valued quite so much.
Which brings me to my final point. Black life in America is simply not assigned the same value, the same “humanness,” as white life. To me, this is what the O.J. Simpson trial was all about. I have often thought, what if O.J. had (allegedly) killed his first wife (Alfreda or some other black-sounding name) and some random black dude she was dating who worked in a restaurant and drove her car around. Would white America have been as fixated by that murder trial and so emotionally invested in the outcome? Sure there would have been some interest because O.J. was a former football star and B-list celebrity, but would white America have pursued his demise with such intensity and fervor? Not stopping even after his acquittal until they “got their man?” For those willing to be honest, I think we all know the answer. In fact, given the irony that at the time O.J. was probably more beloved in the white community than among blacks, I would venture to say that many (perhaps most?) whites would have been pulling for “the juice” in that trial. But O.J.’s (alleged) sin was more than just murder. It was who he (allegedly) murdered.
Sadly, we as blacks are often equally guilty in not valuing black life as we should. The violence in many black communities in many major cities is certainly proof of that. It is heartbreaking and certainly doesn’t help when it comes to shaping perceptions of our people. However, many of those sad cases can be explained by extreme poverty, miseducation, hopelessness and desperation. Less easy to explain is why Darren Wilson is home tonight spending Thanksgiving with his family, while Michael Brown is not. And why so many are just fine with that.
Ferguson puts spotlight on what we need to change
By Vincent Rougeau
Nov. 27, 2014
Like so many other Americans, I waited anxiously for a decision from the Missouri grand jury and was not particularly surprised when I learned that Officer Darren Wilson would face no charges in the killing of the unarmed black teen Michael Brown.
It is very unusual for police officers to be prosecuted in these circumstances. Nonetheless, while I hesitate to second-guess the grand jury’s review of the evidence, the result troubles me. The tragedy in Ferguson is another in a long list of examples of how guns and deadly violence distort the relationship between citizens and the police in the United States.
Shortly after the Ferguson shooting, The Economist reported that police in England and Wales fired their weapons a total of four times during the past two years. Four times -meaning in two years they discharged fewer bullets policing 57 million people than were discharged into Michael Brown’s body on one afternoon.
Vincent Rougeau is the Dean of the
Boston College Law School