The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders

On Ferguson, justice, and redemption

in Opinion/Our Voices/Showcase by

IMG_3822It’s been 114 days since Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Last Monday, a St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict (formally accuse of a serious crime) Wilson on any of the five charges against him, ranging from manslaughter to first degree murder.

This means that officer Wilson will not stand trial for the six fatal shots he deployed on an unarmed black teenager. Does this make it legal for police to kill for any reason with little fear of criminal charges?

Protesters in Ferguson plea for “Justice for Michael Brown,” by which they mean some form of acknowledgment that Brown’s life mattered and that he didn’t deserve to die. Wilson’s indictment would have done this. However, according to the grand jury, Wilson had reasonable grounds for shooting Brown and was not liable for a crime.

It’s incredibly rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. However, much more rarely do police officers face indictment for shootings.

The judicial system is flawed in this way. The law is quite vague when it comes to police decision to use deadly force, and St. Louis County’s deeply entrenched segregation allows for negative stereotypes of criminality to be used as reason for this force. Several studies show that, in all parts of the country, African Americans get disproportionately stopped on the street in comparison to whites. African Americans, who make up thirteen per cent of the nation’s population, composed fifty-five per cent of shooting homicide victims in 2010. Whites, who make up sixty-five per cent of the population, accounted for just twenty-five per cent of victims.

The tragedies in Ferguson should be a turning point in America’s history of police brutality. Since we can’t change the grand jury’s decision, we can prevent more deaths from excessive force like that of Michael Brown. The Kerner Commission of 1976 should have inspired such a change, as should have the LA Rodney King riots twenty-four years after.

The nature of democracy is that laws can be changed and improved, but in the wake of these tragedies, the judicial system has not improved to better handle these conflicts and examine their roots.

If we let injustices like those in Ferguson go without change, there will be more shootings, more protests, and more damage to American property and morale. We may not live in a society in which everyone respects all lives as equal, but we can create one by establishing a more effective and accountable police force.

What really happened on August 9, 2014 when Michael Brown was shot may never be known for sure due to varying testimonies and lack of conclusive evidence. However, with such reform and transparency of authorities, situations like this could be handled more justly.

If you agree, sign this petition for law enforcement officers to wear body cameras: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/force-all-law-enforcement-officers-wear-body-cameras/8S1gbMZQ

It just takes a few seconds, and could make all the difference. I signed because I believe that body cameras on police could hold them accountable for their actions, as well as protect them if they are falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Further reading on the conflicts in Ferguson:

All About Ferguson (From the Polaris Press)

What Happened in Ferguson? (NY Times)

Ferguson Documents: How The Grand Jury Reached A Decision

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