I took some time yesterday to read through the grand jury materials just to see for myself. I think it's clear Michael Brown was charging the cop and the grand jury decision not to indict was correct based on evidence (or lack thereof). And I equally think it's likely the cop could have handled the situation better. Michael Brown seems to have been a thug as my Right-leaning FB feed says. I'm troubled by the implication, however, that being a thug means you deserve anything at all you get. The death penalty for smoking weed, stealing cigarillos, and saying, "F-- you" to a cop? When by the cop's own testimony back-up was 30 seconds away?
The great tragedy of the Ferguson riots, beyond one dead black man, one ruined white man and many black businesses (and therefore families) financially devastated, is that they cement in everyone's mind the idea that this is a race problem primarily, when I think it's actually another instance of the real problem we have nationwide with police thinking of themselves as ground forces fighting an insurgency rather than fellow citizens tasked with protecting communities. I am not anti-cop; I'm pro cop. But it's undeniable we have a problem with trigger happy police, police who have no inclination -- or perhaps no training?-- to de-escalate situations. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a genuinely evil man, has done the black community a double disservice: stoked literal fires in an African-American town and distracted whites from taking problem policing seriously.
Take a moment to watch the video embedded in this page for example. A man, happens to be a black man, is sitting in a chair in a building's skyway. The chair happens to belong to a bank, but the chairs are just in the open air and look like public property. The police, prompted by the bank presumably, ask the guy to move along. He thinks he's within his rights to stay. No one bothers to say, "Sir, I know it looks like public property, but it's actually private property." No one answers his very reasonable questions, they just lord their power over him -- and it ends in a ridiculous roughing up and arrest. Is there a race dimension? I suppose. I wonder if the bank would have asked a white customer to move along -- or asked the police to get involved rather than simply shooing him themselves. But I don't look at that video and see whites prejudiced against a black man. I see cops abusing a citizen, and if they'll treat one citizen that way, they'll do it to others as well.
The broader matter is, this is how government officials at every level treat private citizens now. Janet Reno sent armed men to put machine guns in the faces of Elian Gonzalez' law abiding aunt and uncle to "resolve" a case that was peacefully working its way through the courts. The FDA sends armed swat teams to Amish farms to prevent the sale of raw milk. Almost monthly it seems to me I read a story of the police shooting some dog or some baby in a raid on the wrong house. Radley Balko wrote an entire book about the rise of the militarized cop. We DO have a problem, and it's not primarily a race problem, it's a loss of solidarity and the very notion of citizenship problem.
Having said that, football player Benjamin Watson has a fabulous post on his Facebook page that pretty well sums up my thoughts. Citing a few excerpts here, but I hope you'll read the whole thing.
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
Update: read Ezra Klein's take on Officer Wilson's testimony (with which I agree -- Wilson's testimony is sort of broadly plausible, but seems like a guy making an angel out of himself), and then his comparison of officer Wilson's testimony w/ that of Michael Brown's companion. Of course both are speculation, but I agree with his assessment of what likely happened.
Update 2: Surveillance tape released of Cleveland police shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The kid had a very realistic looking toy gun, and once something that looks like a gun is in your face, you have the right to defend yourself. But... the person who phoned the police told them the gun was "probably fake." Wasn't there a way to investigate that first, rather than pulling w/n feet of the kid and coming out firing?