Photo from Slate Magazine’s great collection of photos from the protests here.
The news that a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was devastating. That devastation is compounded by the fact that it’s a reflection of a system that continues to devalue black lives, as seen in the recent tragic killings of Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley.
I’m still hearing helicopters flying overhead in Oakland as our city joins others around the country in raging against injustice. As we process what happened and plan for continuing the fight, here’s a roundup of some of the best commentary I’ve seen in the past few days.
Many people have pointed out how poorly the prosecution handled the case. From Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker:
In Missouri, as elsewhere, grand juries are known as tools of prosecutors. In the famous words of Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich” if he wanted to. This is certainly true, but it is true, too, that grand juries retain at least a nominal independence. They usually do what prosecutors want, but they are not legally required to.
In sending Wilson’s case to the grand jury, McCulloch technically turned over to them the decision about whether to prosecute. By submitting all the evidence to the grand jury, he added to the perception that this process represented an independent evaluation of the evidence. But there is little doubt that he remained largely in control of the process; aggressive advocacy by prosecutors could have persuaded the grand jurors to vote for some kind of indictment. The standard for such charges—probable cause, or more probable than not—is generally a very easy hurdle. If McCulloch’s lawyers had simply pared down the evidence to that which incriminated Wilson, they would have easily obtained an indictment.
FiveThirtyEight points out how rare this is: in the last year with available data, the federal government brought 162,000 cases and failed to get an indictment in only 11.
Ta-Nehisi Coates took on Barack Obama’s somewhat lackluster response and the possibility for hope:
And that is because the death of all of our Michael Browns at the hands of people who are supposed to protect them originates in a force more powerful than any president: American society itself. This is the world our collective American ancestors wanted. This is the world our collective grandparents made. And this is the country that we, the people, now preserve in our fantastic dream. What can never be said is that the Fergusons of America can be changed—but, right now, we lack the will to do it.
Perhaps one day we won’t, and maybe that is reason to hope. Hope is what Barack Obama promised to bring, but he was promising something he could never bring. Hope is not the naiveté that would change the face on a racist system and then wash its hands of its heritage. Hope is not feel-goodism built on the belief in unicorns. Martin Luther King had hope, but it was rooted in years of study and struggle, not in looking the other way. Hope is not magical. Hope is earned.
Time and again, Mike Brown’s parents have been lauded, and rightly so, for their dignity, compassion, and composure. It is frustrating, though, that as has always been the case throughout history, the subjugated have had to be nobler. It is a hell of a thing to expect nobility in the face of such staggering disgrace.
If we were talking about the murder of my child, I would not be dignified. I would be naked and hideous with my grief. I would rage. If I were murdered in such a manner, I would want people to rage on my behalf. I would want to be remembered loudly, with fire. Such visible outrage could be its own kind of grace.
Don’t misunderstand those words. Violence is not the answer but neither is peace.
Think Progress offers four ways that Darren Wilson and the Ferguson police could be held accountable in court. Color of Change has a petition to the Justice Department urging them to bring federal charges against Wilson.
Protesters in Ferguson released an open letter, ending with a look to the future:
And until this system is dismantled, until the status quo that deems us less valuable than others is no longer acceptable or profitable, we will struggle. We will fight. We will protest.Grief, even in its most righteous state, cannot last forever. No community can sustain itself this way.So we still continue to stand for progress, and stand alongside anyone who will make a personal investment in ending our grief and will take a personal stake in achieving justice.We march on with purpose. The work continues. This is not a moment but a movement. The movement lives.
As we head into Thanksgiving, it can be hard to find something to be grateful for in this situation. But Michelle Alexander issued a heartfelt thank you that resonates:
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you — a deep, heart-wrenching thank you — to all the organizers and activists who took to the streets following Michael Brown’s killing and who refused to stop marching, raising their voices, and crying out for justice. It is because of them — their courage, boldness, vision and stamina — that the world is paying attention to what is happening in a suburb called Ferguson. The world is not watching because an unarmed black man was killed by the police. That’s not news. What made this police killing different was that the people in Ferguson — particularly the young people — rose up and said We Will Not Take It Any More. Our Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. And their cry has been heard around the world.