Part of me—a large part of me—sees the violence that erupted last night in Ferguson, Missouri as uninformed ignorance and baseless rage, fueled by bad assumptions and blinded by emotions.
Neither I, nor the protestors and looters, heard the grand jury testimony nor saw the information presented to the grand jury in the Michael Brown case. In a system in which justice is the goal, leaving it in the hands of people who pledge to leave their biases at the door and make decisions based purely on the facts seems logical and reasonable. We cannot afford to challenge those decisions simply because we do not like the outcomes.
But part of me understands the deep distrust of the justice system that fuels the rage in the streets of Ferguson. We still have a system that routinely interprets Black experiences through the lens of White eyes and White experience. Part of me can accept the rage that causes people to give greater weight to the stories of people who look like them; in their reality, the system is always skewed, seldom doing more than giving lip service to justice.
I try to put myself in the shoes of someone whose experiences with the justice system through an entire lifetime have always been negative, whose experience suggests the police and the courts assume the worst of me and my “kind.” Living such an experience is bound to leave angry scars and create mistrust and loathing. And it’s bound to make it easier for me to dismiss decisions reached by a grand jury as just more examples of a system rigged against me.
Looking at the situation between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown from the uninformed comfort of distance and sketchy information and bias born of personal experience, I suspect that both men behaved in inappropriate ways that contributed to the tragedy of Brown’s unnecessary death. However, something seems amiss in the events leading up to last night’s announcement, something that may have contributed to the violence that followed.
In considering the length of time the grand jury took to examine the facts and in reviewing the information released about its deliberations, it seems to me that the grand jury was asked to behave more like a trial jury than a grand jury. It seems to me that the grand jury had enough evidence to indict Wilson for, at the very least, negligent homicide. Putting the matter in the hands of a trial jury, then, would put the information available to the jury in front of the public, gradually, rather than releasing it en mass at the same time the non-indictment decision was reached. Instead, though, the grand jury was asked to sort through vast amounts of evidence, considering just as much information as a trial jury would have considered. Perhaps the grand jury reached the same decision a trial jury would have reached, but a trial jury would have reached a decision in a more public arena, in which information was shared with the public before a decision was reached.
And I wonder about the wisdom of releasing the decision of the grand jury at night, when individuals in crowds of angry protestors are better able to be invisible, thereby increasing the likelihood they will behave as if they were invisible.
Ultimately, I don’t know whether the grand jury was right or wrong in its decision. But I know a lot of people felt the decision was just business as usual for a justice system that tends to protect itself at the expense of Black people. The rage that spilled into the streets of Ferguson did not come out of nowhere; it erupted from pent-up anger that cries out for attention.
I wish the situation in Ferguson had not happened. But, if not Ferguson, it was bound to happen somewhere. Until we, as a people, can ensure social justice for all, our system of criminal justice will continue to provide fuel for rage.