Understanding Ferguson

Understanding Ferguson

Adrienne BoettingerWednesday,26 November 2014

The Snap:

We haven’t really written about what’s going on in Ferguson. Speaking only for myself and not the other TSD writers, I haven’t known what to say. I can’t hope to understand what this must feel like for the family and friends of Michael Brown, the mothers and fathers praying to protect their sons from a similar fate, or even for Darren Wilson and his supporters. The issue is such a charged one; to ignore why this case resonates with so many African-Americans is to stick one’s head in the sand and pretend race plays no part in our criminal justice system or the rest of our society.

The Download:

Only one person knows what was going on in Michael Brown’s mind on that day and tragically the world is never going to hear his side of the story. Only one person knows what was going on in Darren Wilson’s mind before and during his shooting of the unarmed teen. (And before you ask why I’m describing Brown as an unarmed teen…it’s because he was unarmed and a teenager.) Wilson said he feared for his life and that’s why he shot Brown. I’ve never been a cop and I don’t know what it’s like. But I don’t understand why if you’re afraid for your life, you keep shooting even when you’ve already fired twice and when the person you’re afraid will kill you has no weapon and is in fact running away from you.

I don’t understand why a county prosecutor would decide this was the case to do everything differently than every other grand jury investigation he’s participated in (and in the bulk of grand juries convened throughout the country). I don’t understand why he would take 3 months to present 60 witnesses, numerous pieces of evidence, and give no guidance to the jury when typically a grand jury investigation takes one day and the prosecutor argues for the grand jury to indict. It’s sort of in his job description as prosecutor to, you know, prosecute.

I don’t understand why so many grand juries proceed with indictments that people have said grand juries would indict a ham sandwich and yet this grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. And I sure as hell don’t understand why a city and region that was so afraid of violent protests and lawlessness that they call in the National Guard (thus almost ensuring violence would ensue) would wait until after dark to tell people in the most rambling and incoherent way possible that the exact results they knew and feared would happen, came true.

I don’t understand how someone’s anger and frustration with a grand jury hearing can lead that person to burn to the ground the business of someone not remotely associated with the hearing. I don’t understand how looting someone else’s business does anything to get justice for the victim or his family. But I also don’t understand the depth of helplessness and hopelessness Michael Brown’s parents must feel as they face their first holiday season without their son, watch their town come apart at the seams, and rely on the criminal justice system only to have it repeatedly fail them.

Nor do I understand how some people can think race played no role and that racism no longer plays a part in everyone’s daily lives. Take a look at something as seemingly innocuous as pre-school. African-Americans make up only 18 percent of preschoolers and yet represent nearly half of all out-of school suspensions for that age group. Those kids are more likely to have trouble in school the rest of their lives – it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. These kids believe their school expects them to be bad, they start to think it themselves, and so they start behaving worse and worse.

It says something when so many people expect the criminal justice system to fail them. It seems truer with each passing day; whether or not it’s true, that’s what people think. If you think your own government will always leave you disadvantaged, that your young boys will always be at risk of being shot, that your neighbors will call the cops on you whenever something goes missing in their homes; if these are your thoughts on a daily basis, how can we build trust? 

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Hat Tips:

SlateNew York TimesThe New YorkerFiveThirtyEightNBC NewsThis American LifeNPR, Image Credit: Flickr

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