Starting from Ferguson
By Elizabeth Hong
I’ve written about Ferguson and its history of a black-white racial divide in the Bolt before. It’s a city where 67.4% of the population is black and 29.3% is white even though only 3 out of 53 officers on Ferguson’s police force are black. In 2013, out of 5,384 traffic stops in Ferguson, only 12.7% involved white residents while 86% involved black residents. The disproportionate targeting of African-Americans, and their lack of representation in the city’s government and police are what culminated into “Ferguson,” sparked by Michael Brown’s death.
I wasn’t surprised by the lack of an indictment for police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Brown. Although grand juries rarely ever reject indictments in most federal cases, police are usually immune from criminal charges in shootings. In Dallas, grand juries only returned one indictment out of 81 shootings involving police between 2008 and 2012. Whether or not Wilson should have been convicted for killing Michael Brown is another point of debate. There are still many looming questions over the facts and testimonies that I think should have been addressed in a trial. First of all, it is absolutely clear that the authorities dealing with this case messed up with the investigation. Brown’s body was allowed to lie in the street for four hours. Wilson’s gun was never dusted for prints, so there is no accurate evidence on whether or not Brown actually grabbed his weapon. Brown did have an altercation with Wilson, but for some reason, photos taken of Wilson just hours after the incident show no apparent facial injuries. The most crucial point still remains in air. Bystanders claimed that Brown had his hands up immediately before he was killed whereas Wilson and the Ferguson police department claimed that Brown was charging Wilson.
What happened in the case of Michael Brown wasn’t notable in that an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a policeman. On average, there are 96 such incidents per year of a white police officer killing a black person and this number is most likely undercounted because not all police departments accurately report on these incidents. Instead, Ferguson’s reaction to Michael Brown’s death is what has a made a difference. The efforts of a few in a small city with a population of about only 21,000 have spurred a national movement on the subject of racial targeting, police brutality, and our criminal justice system’s failure to address these issues. If Ferguson didn’t happen, the media and New York City wouldn’t be focusing so much on the recent failure to indict the police officer for Eric Garner’s death, a result which is still mind-boggling to me considering that the police officer used a chokehold banned by the NYPD since 1993 and definitely did not kill Garner in defense (just watch the video). In The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, a notable civil rights attorney, Alexander states that addressing systematic racial discrimination in the justice system and in America altogether begins with a new conversation “about race and the role of race defining the basic structure of our society.” I think that’s exactly the kind of dialogue that Ferguson protestors have started.