It's early in the morning as I write this, and for the past three hours or so, the streets of Ferguson, Mo. appear reminiscent of a Middle Eastern war zone. Huge swaths of the town, a suburb of St Louis, are engulfed in flames. The riots, looting and overall civil unrest are ostensibly a result of a local grand jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson, a police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, over the summer. I say “ostensibly” because the most organized activists against the police brutality have emphatically condemned and distanced themselves from the lootings and violence. The Brown family has even directly urged residents not to sully their son's name through such contemptible acts.
Granted, at press time, not all the evidence given to the grand jury has been made public yet, and I did not have a chance this past evening to meticulously scrutinize all that has been released. But from what I found, the fact that the grand jury declined to issue an indictment for at least some underlying offense such as manslaughter (if not second degree murder) is perplexing, to say the least. Unlike a conviction, an indictment requires a significantly lower burden of proof, one that does not convey guilt but merely the illustrates the preponderance of it.
Given the facts, including numerous eyewitness accounts and that Wilson shot Brown six times, including some at close range, it is difficult to see how that standard was not reached. Furthermore, the speculation by some that the lead prosecutor even guided the grand jury away from an indictment doesn't sound proper, if not a total dereliction of duty on the part of the DA.
It is always dangerous to prognosticate on these types of distant, cloaked proceedings. But from the information currently available to the public, it is a miscarriage of justice that a white officer can shoot an unarmed black teenager with impunity, especially six times. That is not just the opinion of radicals, it was recently espoused by the National Bar Association.
I have little doubt that the decision was reached, at least partially, on account of race. While white people in Ferguson are only 28 percent of the population, they comprised 75 percent of the grand jury. Granted, the grand jury was empaneled from citizens around the larger, whiter county, but the point remains the same. 50 years onward from the Civil Rights Act, and 20 years from the Rodney King riots, it appears the United States still has quite a long way to go on the topic of race.
Horwitz is an associate editor.