Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in a news-media free wilderness you’ve heard about the Michael Brown shooting in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a place most Americans outside of St. Louis never heard of before last summer. Accounts and opinions are raging across the political spectrum, and I’ve been sorting out my emotions triggered by this disgraceful event.
What I believe is that on August 9, 2014, eighteen year-old Michael Brown and a friend were walking down the middle of a street in their neighborhood of Ferguson, Missouri, like teenagers tend to do all across America. At about noon police officer Darren Wilson drove his police cruiser past them and told the two teenagers to get on the sidewalk. The teens apparently chose to not show the level of respect in their response that Wilson expected. Wilson quickly lost control of the situation and within moments Michael Brown’s body was lying face down in the street riddled with six bullets from Wilson’s gun.
There’s only two people who know exactly what was said and done at Wilson’s police cruiser that day, and the unarmed person ended up dead. Wilson drove away in his police cruiser long before Brown’s body was removed from the street and went into hiding until St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, the man responsible for investigating this case, engineered a grand jury finding that allowed Wilson to walk free. Wilson has now gone on national television and proudly proclaimed “no regrets” over killing an unarmed kid for jaywalking.
A couple of years ago my wife Winnie was issued a speeding citation by one of Prince William County’s finest. Winnie was driving in a residential 25 MPH speed limit, the rearmost in a group of five cars, when she was pulled over and cited for driving 39 MPH. Winnie vehemently denied she was speeding.
That was the first time Winnie had ever been pulled over and as a naturalized American citizen her English and knowledge of American customs is limited. When Winnie stopped she immediately jumped out of her car with iPhone in hand for reasons that must have made sense to her at the time. If reading that gives you a sudden chill over what could have happened, you’ve seen my point. Winnie was lucky; the cop merely ordered her back into her car over his PA.
Media investigations in the days following Michael Brown’s shooting revealed that in 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson issued 32,975 arrest warrants for minor traffic and non-violent offenses to a town of 21,135 people, 11,840 more warrants than there were people. In 2013 Ferguson collected $2.6 million in court fines and fees, the town’s second largest source of $20 million in annual revenue. Media reports cited resident’s perceptions that the court was using fines and fees to pad the city coffers on the backs of people unable to defend themselves.
I believed Winnie’s denial of speeding because I know how carefully she drives. I also knew she couldn’t have been going any faster than the cars immediately in front of her that weren’t pulled over for speeding. In court the cop that cited Winnie admitted he had no radar on her but was using his “judgement” to determine speed when she passed him while he was parked in a side road. For a first-time traffic citation where the only evidence was the cop’s word against Winnie’s, the judge found Winnie guilty of speeding and fined her $400 plus $84 in court fees.
We have our perceptions on what that speeding ticket was really about.
Last Monday night I listened to the first twenty minutes of McCulloch’s press conference announcing the non-indictment results of his Grand Jury. Twenty minutes of McCulloch smugly blaming Michael Brown’s shooting on social media, the 24 hour news cycle, conflicting witness stories, and even on Michael Brown, was all I could handle. I heard McCulloch give Wilson a free pass, not even suffer the inconvenience of a trial with pre-ordained not-guilty results, and by doing so he gave Wilson and every cop like Wilson license to kill without accountability.
As I listened to McCulloch, my stomach grew sick remembering Winnie’s traffic ticket. Although I consider the cop who pulled her over to be corrupt, at least he didn’t shoot her for her mistake of jumping out of her car. I turned off the TV, found Winnie, and gave her a big hug.
I don’t believe Wilson’s account of what happened on August 9, but I believe him when he says he has no regrets. Police corruption is not restricted to Ferguson, Missouri. What happened to Michael Brown could happen to anyone. This is not what America should be.
Editors Note: Here is a link to an interesting analysis of what witnesses in the Grand Jury claimed, broken down by their answers to key questions in a matrix format.
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