Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson: How Do We Move Forward from Tragedy?

Five often misunderstood facts about Ferguson:
1. Michael Brown did commit a crime before the altercation with Officer Wilson. He stole a box of cigarillos in what the police characterized as a “strong-arm robbery”, the monetary value of which totaled $48.99.
2. There was no trial. There were grand jury proceedings to determine whether or not there was probable cause to indict Officer Wilson on criminal charges. 
3. There are conflicting witness accounts. Several witness accounts line up with a story presented by Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson who was with him during the incident, but there are others that align more with Officer Wilson’s version of events. 
4. The grand jury which decided there was no probable cause was made up of six white men, three white women, two black women and one black man. This racial makeup is similar to the racial makeup of St. Louis County itself. Nine votes are needed to indict.
5. The grand jury investigation was atypical of usual investigations of the same nature, taking three months to deliberate and present evidence when a decision is usually reached within a day on any particular case.
6. The grand jury is not the only investigation under way--the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are both pursuing civil rights investigations in regards to Ferguson and the shooting.

Several things jump out at me when looking at the tragic death of Michael Brown. First, the punishment does not fit the crime. Brown did not deserve to be shot for robbing a convenience store of less than $50. That is not to say that Brown was guiltless in this incident, but that he was a teenager, and sometimes teens make mistakes and do stupid things such as rob a convenience store, or walk in the middle of the street, which is what Brown was doing when Officer Wilson approached him. 

Second, from what I have heard and seen it seems to me like the real outrage here aside from tragic loss of life should be lack of justice. In particular, because the prosecutor released all of the evidence the grand jury saw, we are able as individuals to form decisions for ourselves. Usually, grand jury proceedings are secret, however, in this case, all evidence and testimony was released after the trial. This means that the "the jury knows more than you do" argument isn't valid. I've looked at the evidence, and I believe that there was probable cause for a trial, and it troubles me that this particular jury did not find it so. 

Third, I don't think we should overthrow the legal or law enforcement systems, I just don't think that's the problem, I think individual people are the problem. I don't have a problem with a grand jury investigation, however I do think that the anomalies in this particular investigation are troubling. What I find more troubling, however, is the willingness of people jump blindly on the side of Brown or the side of Wilson, and to not consider the facts for themselves. And frankly, I do not know who to believe, which is why I think there should have been a real trial. I think that we need reform in our legal system but I don't think that the problem is the actual formalities of the system. I think the problem is a lack of racial sensitivity and cognizance of racial issues that plague our country. We need to work together, people of all races, to ensure that we do not have more instances of tragedy and racial violence in our country. I strongly resent being told that white people are the problem here, because I don't think there need to be sides. Yes, it is white people that perpetuate racism, but it is not all white people, it is only those who are too ignorant to know any better or people who are too hateful to change. So in the aftermath of an outrage like this, I think it is important to show that we can work together to achieve something better for future Michael Browns, and to not divide and point fingers. This is not to say that this is an attitude taken by many black people, it is definitely the minority, but it is something that I encountered and I thought was relevant to discuss. 

Fourth, something that seems out of place to me about the entire phenomenon of Ferguson, is why this particular case? If we are going to be outraged about the failings of our legal system to effectuate change and the tragic loss of life of black youth why wait until now? While this stands out to me, what is important is that this time, we don't back down. We cannot let these racial issues be subdued again and fall out of the national consciousness. Trayvon Martin's death incited riots as well, but we were not able to effectuate any change, and we are left with a system that as described by the Congressional Black Caucus, is failing young black men time after time. 

Finally, I think as I articulate these thoughts I've come to the realization that maybe I will not be able to fully understand. I cannot possibly understand what it is like as an African-American to carry the burden of centuries of racism and watch as people of my race are incarcerated, murdered, and subject to inequality that still plagues this country today. I can't understand what it is like to be black because I am not, but I can understand that the journey to racial equality is not over, and that everyone in this country needs to step up and help to put a stop to egregious violations of the principles of justice, tolerance, and equality this country was founded on. Our youth are dying--not black youth, but our youth, because we maybe be white, black, hispanic, asian, or any other race you identify with, but ultimately, we are all American, and we as Americans have a duty to protect and preserve the lives of our fellow citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, and we aren't doing a very good job. It is time to step up and realize that we are at a turning point of civil rights in this country, and we can stand idly by while inequality and injustice permeate, or we can stand up and fight for our rights and the rights of our fellow citizens. 

The information from this post was taken from the following sources:
New York Times

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