Yes, Ferguson, Missouri is looking a whole lot like Money, Mississippi. In 1955, two white men were charged, tried, and found not guilty in the murder of Emmett Till. Then they bragged about it to national magazines. Nothing could be done. The Mississippi “justice” system was built entirely in their favor. That’s how it’s looking in Ferguson today. The Washington Post reported this morning that Officer Darren Wilson was allowed to drive himself alone from the crime scene, wash blood off his hands at the police station, and enter his own gun into evidence. None of this should happen in a professional police department. But that’s the problem. Ferguson is not a professional police department. Apparently Officer Wilson and none of the other officers and detectives who arrived at the scene thought they were at a crime scene. They assumed. They knew. This is the picture of white privilege. And it’s an ugly picture.
With the report of this unprofessional and unethical behavior, no matter what one thought of the case, the very things we call “evidence” cannot be trusted. The Washington Post article also quotes a crime scene analyst explaining why he didn’t take any measurements at the scene: He saw the event as “self-explanatory.” Well, there are barely words for this outrage. A young man can be killed and the authorities know what happened before they get to the scene. Imagine Michael Brown’s mother reading that. Imagine reading it about your own son or father.
America’s criminal justice is broken and has been broken for a long time. We must find ways to make it more just but in today’s shattered political climate that seems impossible. In the meantime, we must speak out, write to newspapers, get citizens onto police review boards, and do everything we can to keep our young people away from the criminal justice system. It has already devoured too many. We also, especially Americans whose skin looks like mine, we must confront white privilege and racism everywhere we see it: in our language, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our families. Until we see our own privileges, we cannot truly see those who live without them.
Additionally, many Americans voice shock at the rioting and anger in cities around the country. This is simply a sign of how little the majority knows about the lives of minorities. It’s a sign of how far we have to go. Dr. King famously said, after the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles, “Rioting, at bottom, is the language of the unheard.” Imagine a police department not following its own protocols. Imagine crime scene analysts deciding an outcome before they even arrive. If you can’t understand the anger, then nothing I write will make it any clearer.
America, we all need to listen to the voices behind the anger. We need to listen to African-American citizens, especially those who have encountered the criminal justice system. We need to listen to those with bricks in their hands. If we don’t, we will never understand this problem. And it will never be solved.
Photo Credit: The Los Angeles Times