Soon after the decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson, the man who shot and killed Michael Brown in still-roiling Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama acknowledged “disappointment”. But he added: “We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”
Let’s break that down a bit. America was built initially on a constitution in which black Americans were three-fifths of a human being; one in which only landowning white men could vote. So yes, we are built on law, but the law has always picked favourites.
And, considering that last Thursday was American Thanksgiving, it’s worth quoting TV satirist Jon Stewart for a retake on the pilgrim era: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighbourhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
Don’t get me wrong — I love this country. My maternal family were, generations ago, free black farmers even during the era of slavery. Some members still own land passed down generation to generation. Members of my family have served in the Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. My mother’s generation includes civil servants who worked for the post office, social security, the local school system and water department.
In other words, we are America. And yet, when my uncle, who both fought in Vietnam and retired from the post office, wears casual clothes and a winter knit hat, he “fits the profile” — the profile heard on many American newscasts when a criminal is described as a black man of a certain height.
White men are not described as suspects in the same vague way with the same frequency. If you “fit the profile,” – being a black man, that is — you are subject to well-documented over-policing (including “driving while black”). You are three times more likely to be killed during an arrest than white men are. Being black is dangerous.
So: was Michael Brown a nice guy? This has been heavily debated since the beginning of the controversy. It appears he did rob a store and smack the proprietor. But Officer Wilson claims he did not respond for that reason. Officer Wilson has said a lot of things, including that Brown “looked like a demon”.
Justice, however, should not be reserved for saints. I think of historic examples of how America has demanded saintliness in order to move towards justice. Take Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of the bus and set off the successful Montgomery bus boycotts.
Two other women had done the same thing, but they were young single mothers and not viewed as suitable spokespeople for the movement. Rosa Parks was regularly portrayed as a quiet seamstress. In fact, she is unveiled as a lifelong activist in Jeanne Theoharris’s book, The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks. Professor Theoharris told me: “We forget that it wasn’t the state or white people in 1955 who saw Rosa Parks as a worthy victim. It was black people in Montgomery who had reached the breaking point, angered by segregation.
“Rosa Parks’s arrest made many black people feel like no one was safe. But white people in Montgomery saw her as a troublemaker – as a communist plant. The reason we now see her as a worthy victim is because of that year-long boycott movement rising up to say enough is enough.”
She adds: “Similarly, the reason that the national news media covered Monday’s grand jury decision live is because the people of Ferguson said enough is enough over the past three-plus months. The national media wouldn’t have been there without that Ferguson movement.”
Protests about Ferguson went national, as people blocked bridges in New York and marched through cities across America.
Ferguson officials blamed the media for creating a circus. And then, in the days after the announcement, we learned the truth about the grand jury. It was conducted as a trial without a proper trial, and grand jurors were given a document from 1979 saying it was legal to shoot a suspect in the back, a ruling that was overturned 30 years ago, in 1984. It could be argued that Ferguson’s courts perverted the justice system.
Courtesy: Gulf News
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