The Problem in Ferguson

The problem isn’t that Michael Brown’s corpse has traces of marijuana, as the authorities of Ferguson, Missouri have confirmed, but that it has two bullets in the head. The problem isn’t whether the young black man had a criminal record, but that such a background, actual or presumed, has been used by the local police as a justification for the officer that killed him.

The problem isn’t that Brown was killed from a distance, when he was trying to surrender, as the results indicate from the second autopsy done by Michael Baden at the deceased’s family’s request, but the official version, in which the perpetrator shot the victim from a short distance during a struggle in which the boy attempted to disarm the law enforcement officer.

Police abuse, the excessive use of force by a uniformed officer in his job, is an inevitable occurrence that will continue to take place in every police force in the world. There are no entrance exams, nor action protocols, nor laws strict enough to eliminate every possibility that, every now and then, a police official will act inappropriately and violate a citizen’s human rights, even to the degree of murder.

And since there isn’t a way to guarantee that events of this nature will never happen again, with their painful and appalling aftermath, it’s necessary to provide — inside and outside police forces — institutional investigation mechanisms that administer and impart justice to ensure that police abuse is the exception and not the rule, and that the public officials in charge of enforcing the laws do not dedicate themselves to systematically violating them.

If, in the face of the first signs that a boy had been murdered without cause by a police officer, the Ferguson authorities had immediately clarified the facts, if they had acted with transparency and hadn’t attempted to hide from the public even the name of the alleged offender, then that 20,000-person town in Missouri wouldn’t have been shaken by a deafening rebellion that has left a wake of destruction and wounded civilians, and that has escalated to the point that the Missouri governor has been obligated to establish a curfew and mobilize the National Guard in order to contain the destruction. Instead, the relatives of the deceased Michael Brown would be living days of hurt and despair, the alleged culprit of his death, police officer Darren Wilson, would be subject to a criminal trial for homicide — not, like now, a free man on paid work suspension — and the streets of Ferguson would be in peace.

But the body of Michael Brown has four bullet wounds in the arm, one more in the neck, and two others, the last ones, in the face and the head. The sequence of these injuries seems to indicate that the boy, already wounded, suffered two additional shots; in other words, that he was executed by his aggressor, and that the perpetrator’s superiors have done everything they could to cover it up.

Ferguson’s problem isn’t a dead boy at the hands of the police, but the succession of dead, injured, kicked and assaulted citizens — without cause or regulatory justification — by law enforcement officers throughout the United States, as well as the high prevalence of full impunity in such cases.

And Ferguson’s problem is not impunity, but the fact that impunity is so closely linked to structural discrimination. That Michael Brown was black and his aggressor white is not, in itself, indicative of anything. But these conditions make up a systematic pattern confirmed by statistics. The problem is not a society formed of whites and blacks — in addition to all the other categories employed by the United States’ racist system to classify its population — but a society that puts its white members to work in the police force and its black members to work in delinquency: Of the 56 police officers of the turbulent district in Missouri, only three are black. But at a national level, two out of every three black citizens will spend time in prison at some point in their life.

And the problem isn’t just the persistence of racism in the United States, but also that the political regime works so hard to hide this reality — as shown by the efforts of Ferguson authorities to deceive the public and give impunity to the district’s suspected police officer — even by putting a black man in the White House. And that poor man, the president, now has Michael Brown’s corpse on his desk in the Oval Office and, evidently, doesn’t have the faintest idea what to do with him.

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