Michael Brown

I don’t know if the grand jury investigation into former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s actions in shooting and killing Mike Brown was a sham. A big part of me thinks it was. I don’t think that the flood of more than a thousand pages of documents to the grand jury was reasonable. In fact, I think it was a debilitating hindrance for those responsible for drawing meaning from the chaos of Aug. 9. I don’t think that the lack of diversity of the members of the grand jury created the greatest opportunity for justice to be served. Furthermore, its composition of nine white members and three black members certainly didn’t put the watching masses in a position to trust its decision. These factors have greatly swayed my view of the grand jury’s proceedings, but I remain unresolved for one important reason: I don’t believe that anyone knows what actually happened when Michael Brown met Darren Wilson because of the abundance of conflicting testimonies from eyewitnesses whose words could have had sovereign power, if only they had all said the same thing. In that regard, at least, the proceedings of the grand jury undoubtedly failed. I wish I knew if the grand jury of Darren Wilson saw justice served, but I don’t. Whether in the riots that followed the grand jury’s decision or in the courtroom itself, I think people are working for the interests of their own group when we should be working together.

I don’t believe that Michael Brown deserved to die because he shoplifted a pack of cigarillos and assaulted the store clerk, a charge that has been laid against those who, like me, continue to question exactly what happened that day. Many have argued that Wilson should not have shot to kill, a heavy-handed charge on the coattails of the irrefutable fact that there is too much police brutality. If it was a fight to the death, as Wilson asserted, I couldn’t agree that he shouldn’t have exercised his maximum potential for self-defense. But I do believe that Brown’s fate was written the minute he reached for Wilson’s gun, and that’s because our society has empowered the police to make that decision time and again. Herein lies the true problem with which our society must wrestle as we move forward.

I don’t believe that the riots in Ferguson are about Michael Brown. I believe that the crowd’s rage is about a deeper problem in America that the crowd is responding to — maybe an institutional problem or a social problem, but probably both. A mob does not decide someone’s innocence or guilt; a jury does. I believe that owing to a mix of past social and institutional grievances, the crowd isn’t able to trust the legitimacy of the grand jury’s decision. Such widespread civilian suspicion is formidable. The law is supposed to serve and protect all of its citizens. It is a powerful systemic failure when citizens can’t believe that it does.

So why aren’t we talking about it? A true dialogue about race in America isn’t taking place in an instance that demonstrates a tremendous need for it, just fumbling narratives by newscasters wrestling with the affair’s complexity and radio silence from American leadership. It’s no secret that America’s legacy of subordination of minorities has created an atmosphere in which whites and minority groups cannot talk frankly about contemporary race relations. Living in the 21st century, it is remarkable that it persists but the burn of Ferguson’s riots and national rage is a blistering reminder of how closed off racial groups in America are to each other. As a white woman, in the face of so much rage because of the injustices and harm that my racial group has caused, I feel, and have been made to feel by my peers, that I am not entitled to have an opinion and certainly not entitled to express it. That feeling, which I am sure has been experienced by members of every racial group in America, will perpetuate inter-community silence, which is a tremendous danger to our collective future. The riots in Ferguson as well as Dallas and Austin are a polarizing force. They have a destructive capacity far greater than any quantifiable damage in the riots themselves. The rage of the rioting and silencing capacity of white guilt has closed the conversation before it could even start. For whatever reason, American leadership has allowed a legitimate dialogue to stay unhad, but we can’t let it continue. We have a dire need to understand the mistakes happening every day, every hour. We have a desperate need to fix them so that we are never faced with the ethical quagmire of Michael Brown’s shooting and Darren Wilson’s questionable grand jury again. But we aren’t having that conversation.

I am mad about what’s going on in my country. I am not mad at the rioters — my feeling would be better characterized as profound disappointment at the squandering of finite American sympathy — but I am furious at the continuation of a racial war that Americans have too much heart and promise to let continue. I am ashamed of what’s happening in my country. I am sad. But most importantly, no matter your color or mine, I am with you. Let me show you. Let’s talk.

Smith is a history junior from Austin.

UT alumna Maytè Salazar protests the Ferguson decision in front of the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday evening. Hundreds of protesters marched from the Austin Police Department headquarters to the Capitol building. 

 

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

After the Nov. 24 decision by a grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, tensions ran high among the citizens of Ferguson as well as across the nation. The majority of protesters have no personal connection to the Browns but recognize a bigger issue at stake. While there are mixed opinions on whether Wilson was justified in his act, there is an undeniable trend of black males being killed by police. Those who have taken to the streets have the right idea in mind, but could potentially be more effective with different approaches.

The majority of protest coverage came from the neighborhoods of Ferguson, with a stream of images and video of burning buildings, looting and seemingly out-of-control crowds. An expected symptom of contemporary sensationalized news, many media outlets portrayed Brown supporters as criminals and animals, although the majority of the protests were peaceful. While the surface level showed violence, even a cursory examination reveals the fervor is an outlet for long-felt pain and suffering. This story is bigger than Brown. In the eyes of protesters, it’s the thousands of others like him — unarmed, with only their race as a trigger.

Although instances of arrest and police brutality occur against every racial and ethnic group, the percentage of African-American and Latino victims is disproportionately high in relation to their make-up of the population, especially in drug-related cases. There aren’t statistics proving the racial motivations or bias in these cases, but the racial correlation supported by the data is eerie. After months of protesting with only heavy military and police force as a response, these people wanted to be heard in any way possible. But instead of compassionately portraying the hurt that the protesters feel, the media painted them as monsters, wild and out of control rather than merely exasperated.

An unspoken yet ubiquitous societal mantra teaches that African Americans are not entirely human and therefore more dangerous, just another reason intentionally or unintentionally racist officers, in fear for their lives, will grab for the gun in lieu of using a slower, less lethal method. Violent revolt will only reinforce racial stereotypes and worsen the situation. Everyone has a right to be angry about the loss of human life, but it’s the reaction that defines individuals, and even an entire cause.

The variety of protests over the decision mirror those of the Civil Rights Movement a little over 60 years ago, with the peaceful petitioning aligning with Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy and the more radical opposition with Malcolm X’s. The two symbolize what can be seen as a nonviolent versus violent approach to change. Both men were great leaders in the movement, although King’s ideology was arguably more effective with its perseverance and refusal to give in to anger. We see the same stark differences today between the various protests in response to Ferguson and other similar incidents. And again, King’s methods will prove to be more effective in combating the racial prejudices that spark police violence against racial and ethnic minorities.

Austinites and UT students were perfect models of how to put King’s teachings into practice as they organized and stood in solidarity Tuesday evening. The chants of “Protect black life” and “Black lives matter” not only diffused the message of their marches to passersby, but demanded the attention of the Austin Police Department, which has its own record of using lethal force against black and Latino men. Writing letters to local and state officials, peacefully protesting and most of all exercising patience and perseverance are key to eroding the system of bias that perpetuates the continued loss of life. Racial prejudices weren’t formed overnight, so it can’t be expected that their extinction will be a swift process. Clearly, the peaceful widespread opposition is making a difference, as Wilson recently announced his resignation from the police department. Again, the most important motif in these events is solidarity to address the widespread issue of racism. The anger and hurt of one demographic alone cannot change the status quo. Every group needs to stand together to stop injustice and do so in a peaceful manner.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.

News in Ferguson is perplexing, disappointing

Protesters take their pictures in front of the burning Juanita's Fashion R Boutique on West Florissant Avenue in St. Louis, Mo. early Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Protesters set fire to buildings and cars and loot businesses in the area where Michael Brown was fatally shot after a grand jury declined to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the death of the unarmed, black 18-year-old. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)
Protesters take their pictures in front of the burning Juanita's Fashion R Boutique on West Florissant Avenue in St. Louis, Mo. early Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. Protesters set fire to buildings and cars and loot businesses in the area where Michael Brown was fatally shot after a grand jury declined to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the death of the unarmed, black 18-year-old. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)

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.