Apart from the simmering exasperation–nay, rage–nothing that has emerged from Ferguson, Missouri in the four months since Michael Brown’s shooting death has made any sense to me. Everything–from the events themselves and the characters of the primary actors to the reactions both of protesters and police–has been nuanced by dualism: Michael Brown was a thug, caught on camera robbing a convenience store–but also a promising young student, the first of his family set to attend university; Brown was shot charging officer Darren Wilson–but also, as some have said, with his hands up, clearly unarmed, pleading with Wilson not to shoot. This has left Ferguson with rioting (or not) protesters and brutality (or not) by its police department. It depends upon one’s point of view, and how far one is able to extend his sympathy towards the truth–whatever that elusive quantity is.
And now the St. Louis County Grand Jury has declined to recommend that Wilson be placed under any degree of indictment for what amounts to many as murder. As presented–and as expected–the evidence made sense: There was an initial struggle for the gun inside the police car, with Brown reaching in, and there was–immediately afterward–a pursuit, with Wilson giving chase on foot. In this scenario, the forensics seemingly exonerate Wilson. And while the grand jury investigation was largely able to debunk the “hands up, don’t shoot” quote of Brown’s purported final moments–which inspired the protesters’ rallying cry–still, I am puzzled by more than a few things. Why was Brown’s body left neglected, uncovered for some four and a half hours after the shooting–and is this indicative of a callous police attitude toward the citizenry of Ferguson? Why was no eye batted at the prospect of Wilson’s having washed evidentiary blood off his person before speaking with investigators? Why was the true distance between Brown and Wilson not accurately determined for the moment when the fatal shot was fired?
Then there’s this: Of the 12 shots fired by Wilson, Brown was struck six times, once fatally. Was Wilson a member of the Ferguson Police Department or the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight? Were Brown’s wounds chiefly inflicted as he was fleeing and, most tellingly, had he really turned and–if accidentally–presented himself head down to Wilson when the killing bullet was fired? This is how the grand jury saw it–which means not only that a Ferguson Police Officer couldn’t shoot worth a damn but, perhaps, that he was inadequately trained to do so. When one intends to kill, one aims for a head, thoracic or abdominal shot, right? But what if one intends only to stop an escaping suspect, or drop a charging one to the ground? The last distance between Brown and Wilson is key here. Or is it somehow against police protocol across this country to instruct prospective officers in accurately shooting the legs from beneath people? Brown sustained no gunshot wound to either leg.
But I level no accusation, and take no position other than to state the oddity of the incident. Odd in its circumstance, that is, and its dualism; not, sadly, even remotely odd in the all too frequent reoccurrence of this egregious tragedy. On Thanksgiving, my wife baked a perfect pumpkin pie; perfect, that is, except for her omission of sugar. So while what we had looked quite the pie, it tasted more like pate–and, though egregious, naturally enough was neither. This is what we have in Ferguson: I don’t see a murder, but neither do I see very good police or even investigative work. I see yet another young Black life truncated by the gunfire of a White police officer in Anytown, USA. And it’s unacceptable. It has always been unacceptable, but maybe now–at long last–we can make some progress in this regard.
Because Brown neither deserved nor needed to be killed–which is just the first, and most simple, of two glaring truths to emerge from a case that has been a morass of uncertainty. What has become almost embarrassingly obvious is that police officers across the country need to be outfitted with some kind of body camera.
To begin with, the police would comport themselves with a higher degree of professionalism if held to an accountability both immediate and easily viewed. Having footage of police activity would help protect not only officers, but the public; moreover, such video–an official document, as opposed to something sketchily captured on someone’s phone cam–could provide telling details at trial. In an era when the police are ridiculously over-equipped, this one tiny piece of technology might–despite body armor, automatic weapons and assault vehicles–be the key component in making the streets of every neighborhood much more secure. We have long accustomed ourselves to the ubiquitous security camera, but the time has now come in this country for every patrolling police officer–individually–to wear one.
Wouldn’t it be something if, in having the “talk” with their children, Black parents could–like the rest of us–limit the conversation to the business of the birds and bees? That topic itself can be difficult enough to grapple with. Wouldn’t it be something if young Black people did not also have to be taught that they might–almost casually, sometimes–be killed by the police? Wouldn’t it be nice?