Monday, November 24, 2014

Prelude to Ferguson's Grand Jury Decision


For his sake, I almost hope they indict him.

It's early in the afternoon on this November Monday, and news has already ricocheted across the Internet that the grand jury convened to examine the evidence against Darren Wilson has reached its decision.

A press conference is being set up in St. Louis County for later this afternoon, with the delay buying time not just for members of the grand jury to put some distance between themselves and the media, but also to allow law enforcement agencies throughout the St. Louis region time to brace for whatever civil disobedience might follow the announcement.

If Wilson is no-billed, many pundits expect blacks to protest forcefully against what will be perceived as racial injustice.

Yet if Wilson is indicted for some form of excessive police force, it may be the best scenario not only for Wilson, but for the St. Louis community.

Not that I hope Wilson committed a crime.  An indictment isn't a verdict; it simply means that sufficient evidence exists for a case to be made against the defendant.  And that evidence needs to be put into a legal context.  In the short run, it would mean more agony for Wilson and his family.  Yet in the bigger picture, for him and us, having this whole sordid case play out in a public courtroom for all the world to see might be the only way of diffusing the racial animosity that militant segments of the African-American community have been trying to foment.

Of course, this assumes that Wilson is either genuinely innocent and the evidence presented in court vindicates him, or that Wilson is genuinely guilty of the charges brought against him, a jury finds him guilty, and a suitable punishment is rendered.

If legitimate, objective justice is not done should Wilson be indicted, then we're just delaying the public's acrimony.

Many pundits have mistakenly drawn correlations between Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown and George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin.  Nevertheless, despite the many difference between these two tragedies, cooler heads pleaded with the public to let Zimmerman's trial play out in front of us, even though doing so required a type of patience in which angry mobs don't like to indulge.  When Zimmerman was found not guilty, there was anger, but no terrible riots, mostly because everybody had access to the court proceedings.  Even when many of Zimmerman's jurors expressed regrets over their verdict, it remained clear that the case was not as simple as white versus black.

Isn't it just as probable that Wilson's shooting of Brown is more complex than race, too?  Unfortunately, however, it's difficult to sustain the level of angst and resentment necessary to provoke mob violence as a criminal case unfolds in a public courtroom.  If anything, the traditional secrecy of grand jury deliberations may have helped to stoke the suspicions and cynicism of people who want Brown's death to be about race and police brutality.  Even if that evidence is released to the general public immediately after the press conference today, it could be too little too late for people who are too emotional to be rational.

Police unions probably wouldn't want Wilson indicted for anything, and plenty of conservative Americans who believe black activists drag racism into every cop shooting would likely howl in protest, too.  So let's refresh our memories just a bit, even with the ancillary yet disturbing vignette of unprovoked police officers intentionally firing tear gas at a media crew during an early Ferguson demonstration this past summer.  It's no secret that law enforcement agencies across the country have developed a bad reputation of heavy-handedness, especially when it comes to people who are not white-skinned.  The questions that still remain, regardless of the grand jury's decision in Wilson's case, are questions of unnecessary aggression by law enforcement personnel, and the degree to which that aggression is race related.

Should Wilson be indicted, and his case goes to trial, this issue of police aggression would hopefully be central both to Wilson's defense, and to the prosecution.  Which would mean that, hopefully, we could have a cathartic, soul-bearing conversation on this topic both inside the courtroom and out.  If Wilson is no-billed today, then the question goes back into the closet, until the next sensationalistic episode where a white cop shoots to death a black person.

This is why I almost hope Officer Wilson is indicted today.  Even if the truth can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow.

For everybody involved.


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