A grand jury has decided not to indict after the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown, a black teenager. Rage and violence now rule the streets of Ferguson. The mistrust of an allegedly racist justice system runs deep.
The explosiveness of the grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer who shot an unarmed black man in August was on view last night on the streets of Ferguson: burning houses, plundering, gunfire and tear gas.
It was an eruption of violence compared to the minority of those who protested peacefully against the jury’s decision. Indeed, the explosiveness even found resonance in Washington.
There, in a hastily organized television speech, the U.S. president appealed to demonstrators and police to keep the peace, exercise restraint and recognize the grand jury’s decision. This warning has a sorrowful reason.
Many black Americans believe that the justice system systematically discriminates against them; that white police officers in particular use excessive force against young men with black skin; that they do not have many rights. Why else would so many blacks sit in prison?
This feeling of discrimination may be exaggerated: victim status is frequently construed in order to conceal or palliate some crimes. However, racism exists — though not only in a single direction – and it cannot be denied that there are selective prosecutions. It was left to the president to remind his fellow countrymen that the nation was founded on the rule of law.
Many Americans Consider the Justice System Racist
It is more than worrying when so many Americans dismiss the justice system because they consider it virtually befouled by racism. The many cries of “murder” certainly give that impression. However, many may also take them as a pretext to riot, plunder and set houses afire.
The angry denizens of Ferguson would like to see their suspicions acknowledged, namely, that they do not have rights under this legal system. At least those who didn’t riot could also pause for a moment.
It could be exactly as the public prosecutor’s office maintains: that the grand jury impartially examined all the evidence, listened to all the witnesses and, after careful review, concluded that the police officer should not be indicted, because they believed his version of self-defense.
That so many between New York and Los Angeles are convinced that justice was not done, but rather that this decision was unjust, represents the second tragedy of Ferguson after the death of a young man. It demands gestures of reconciliation and respect to break down the mistrust between police and the black population. But it will need still more than that.