Unrest in Ferguson; a symptom of much bigger problem | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Unrest in Ferguson; a symptom of much bigger problem

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 6:42 AM

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At least 29 have been arrested and buildings have been set fire after Monday night's announcement of no indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. More unrest seems likely.

The country looks nervously, too, at the potential for a violent turn to demonstrations elsewhere. A small group plans a demonstration aimed at blocking traffic to prompt an arrest in Fayetteville, Ark., today, 40/29 reported last night.

I haven't read all the Grand Jury testimony. (But Vox has put it all together here.) The officer, evidence indicates, was hit by Michael Brown in his patrol vehicle. He gave chase. He was armed. Brown wasn't. The officer felt threatened, he fired many times. An unarmed suspected shoplifter fell dead. The law on grand juries prevents us from knowing how many of the 12-person, racially diverse grand jury supported the decision to reject all possible charges, including involuntary manslaughter. Only three dissenters were necessary to prevent the filing of a charge.

Some items I noted in perusing Twitter feeds of news accounts:

* CIVIL UNREST: It isn't always about a perception of injustice in police-citizen encounters, a serious matter due more concern than some are willing to give. Huffington Post rounded up the numerous incidents of violence, fires and such following famous sports victories.

* POLICE VIOLENCE: Police get the benefit of the doubt in confrontations with suspects and potential suspects. That's perhaps understandable. Quick decisions, high emotion, lonely encounters. All contribute to mistakes. But to get a feel for why suspicion lurks about police, not even solely on racial grounds, consider this coincidental news account yesterday from Utah:

There have been more deaths caused by police shootings than by gang members, drug dealers or from child abuse in the past five years in Utah, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

This year alone, the Tribune reported, police shootings have claimed more lives than violence between spouses or partners, for a total of 13 deaths. A toll, which includes 22-year-old Darrien Hunt who was fatally shot by police in September.

"The numbers reflect that there could be an issue, and it's going to take a deeper understanding of these shootings," Chris Gebhardt told the Tribune.

* ATTITUDES: The police officer who shot Brown during broad daylight said the neighborhood was a "hostile environment."  That hostility runs both ways in a town where whites control political power despite a large black population. The officer said Michael Brown looked like a "demon." Because he was 6'4"? Because he was black? Why?

As President Obama observed last night: "There are still problems, and communities of color aren't just making these problems up"

* THE FUTURE: Much can and should be done about divisions in society, racial polarization and all the large issues that lead to Fergusons. But let's start with police procedures. Justified though the shooting might have been, let's look at the initial stop of a young man for walking in the middle of the street and why and how it was done. (Shortly after spotting Brown, the officer realized Brown matched the description of a man suspected of shoplifting some cigarillos.) Let's look at how we equip armed police officers to respond when confronted with belligerent, but unarmed people. (I'm still looking for information on the distance that separated Wilson and Brown when the fatal shots were fired.)

And here's a more elemental need that many have mentioned: It's time for police to wear body cameras to record such encounters. Then the conflicts among eyewitness statements can be more readily resolved.

* AND FURTHERMORE: Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who presided in the hotly controversial trial of a Little Rock police officer who killed a suspected car burglar (it ended in mistrial), sent an e-mail last night saying he endorsed a statement by the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, an organization of progressive black leaders nationwide, on events in Ferguson.

The decision to not prosecute Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, Jr. is yet another example of the way the people who control the machinery of justice condone extra-judicial executions of persons of color. 

The conference contends the prosecutor was conflicted in the case and a special prosecutor should have been appointed. A prosecutor should not have deferred to a secret grand jury proceeding, but filed a homicide charge that could have been tried in public, the group said. The group also criticizes the Justice Department for not filing a civil rights charge in the death.

* PS: The most bitterly ironic Tweet of the night reported that Fox News had assembled a panel to talk about race in America. It was comprised entirely of white people.

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